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Virginia PT Telehealth
Telehealth is the use of electronic technology or media including interactive audio or video to engage in the practice of physical therapy. “Telehealth” does not include an audio-only telephone, electronic mail message, facsimile transmission, or online questionnaire.
Responsibility for and Appropriate Use of Technology
A client’s appropriateness for evaluation and treatment via telehealth should be determined by the Physical Therapist on a case-by–case basis, with selections based on physical therapist judgment, client preference, technology availability, risks and benefits, and professional standards of care. A PT is responsible for all aspects of physical therapy care provided to a client, and should determine and document the technology used in the provision of physical therapy. Additionally, the PT is responsible for assuring the technological proficiency of those involved in the client’s care.
Verification of Identity
Given that in the telehealth clinical setting the client and therapist are not in the same location and may not have established a prior in-person relationship, it is critical, at least initially, that the identities of the physical therapy providers and client be verified. Photo identification is recommended for both the client and all parties who may be involved in the delivery of care to the client. The photo identification, at minimum, should include the name of the individual; however, personal information such as address or driver’s license number does not have to be shared or revealed. The client may utilize current means, such as state websites, to verify the physical therapy provider is licensed in the originating jurisdiction (where the client is located and receiving telehealth services).
Clients should be made aware of any limitations that telehealth services present as compared to an in-person encounter for that client’s situation, such as the inability to perform hands-on examination, assessment and treatment, clients should give consent to such services and evidence documenting appropriate client informed consent for the use of telehealth services should be obtained and maintained. Appropriate informed consent should, as a baseline, include the following:
Physical therapist/Client Relationship
Developing a physical therapist/client relationship is relevant regardless of the delivery method of the physical therapy services. As alternative delivery methods such as telehealth emerge, it bears stating that the PT/client relationship can be established in the absence of actual physical contact between the PT and client. Just as in a traditional (in-person) encounter, once the relationship is established, the therapist has an obligation to adhere to the reasonable standards of care for the client (duty of care).
The practice of physical therapy occurs where the client is located at the time telehealth services are provided. A practitioner must be licensed by, or under the jurisdiction of, the regulatory board of the state where the client is located and the state where the practitioner is located. Practitioners who evaluate or treat through online service sites must possess appropriate licensure in all jurisdictions where clients receive care.
Standards of Care
It is the responsibility of the PT to ensure the standard of care required both professionally and legally is met. As such, it is incumbent upon the PT to determine which clients and therapeutic interventions are appropriate for the utilization of technology as a component of, or in lieu of, in-person provision of physical therapy care. Physical therapy providers should be guided by professional discipline, best available evidence, and any existing clinical practice guidelines when practicing via telehealth. Physical therapy interventions and/or referrals/consultations made using technology will be held to the same standards of care as those in traditional (in-person) settings. The documentation of the telehealth encounter should be held at minimum to the standards of an in-person encounter. Additionally, any aspects of the care unique to the telehealth encounter, such as the specific technology used, should be noted.
Privacy and Security of Client Records and Exchange of Information
In any physical therapy encounter, steps should be taken to ensure compliance with all relevant laws, regulations and codes for confidentiality and integrity of identifiable client health information. Written policies and procedures should be maintained for documentation, maintenance, and transmission of the records of encounters using telehealth services. Such policies and procedures should address (1) privacy, (2) health-care personnel (in addition to the practitioner addressee) who will process messages, (3) hours of operation, (4) types of transactions that will be permitted electronically, (5) required client information to be included in the communication, such as client name, identification number and type of transaction, (6) archival and retrieval, and (7) quality oversight mechanisms. Policies and procedures should be periodically evaluated for currency and be maintained in an accessible and readily available manner for review.
The client record should include, if applicable, copies of all client-related electronic communications, including client-practitioner communication, prescriptions, laboratory and test results, evaluations and consultations, records of past care, and instructions obtained or produced in connection with the utilization of telehealth services. Informed consents obtained in connection with an encounter involving telehealth services should also be filed in the medical record. The client record established during the use of telehealth services should be accessible to both the practitioner and the client, and consistent with all established laws and regulations governing client healthcare records.
Physical therapy providers need to have the level of understanding of the technology that ensures safe, effective delivery of care. Providers should be fully aware of the capabilities and limitations of the technology they intend to use and that the equipment is sufficient to support the telehealth encounter, is available and functioning properly and all personnel are trained in equipment operation, troubleshooting, and necessary hardware/software updates. Additionally, arrangements should be made to ensure access to appropriate technological support as needed.
Emergencies and Client Safety Procedures
When providing physical therapy services, it is essential to have procedures in place to address technical, medical, or clinical emergencies. Emergency procedures need to take into account local emergency plans. Alternate methods of communication between both parties should be established prior to providing telehealth services in case of technical complications. It is the responsibility of the provider to have all needed information to activate emergency medical services to the clients’ physical location if needed at time of the services are being provided. If during the provision of services the provider feels that the client might be experiencing any medical or clinical complications or emergencies, services should be terminated and the client referred to an appropriate level of service.
Board of Physical Therapy Guidance Doc: 112-21