For the past seven years, the Physical Therapy Clinic at the Health Resource Center has been providing pro bono services to members of the St. Louis community. Not only does the clinic offer free treatment to uninsured and underinsured patients, but it allows students an opportunity to develop their manual, interprofessional, and communication skills learned in the classroom. This year, however, physical therapy at the HRC has looked a bit different. Due to the shutdown of Saint Louis University’s campus in the spring following the COVID-19 pandemic, our student providers were not allowed to engage clients in person. The new student leaders immediately began the process of looking into what options they had to continue to provide the community. The answer, Telehealth.
Beginning September 2020, physical therapy visits at the HRC became Telehealth visits.
The group of dedicated leaders worked to create a new normal for our students and our patients, during treatments offered on Saturday mornings via Zoom Telemedicine. These students joined with student physical therapy leaders from across the country through an organization called “The Pro-Bono Network” to create continued access to physical therapy for the clients of the HRC.
So how does PHYSICAL therapy work in Telehealth?
Wonderfully, actually! Communicating with the client is the first part of an in-person visit and a vital portion of a physical therapy evaluation. Asking the client about their issue/pain and how it relates to their function during their daily activities is the cornerstone to the clinical reasoning that leads to the selection of appropriate physical therapy intervention. Education about postures, movements, and instruction in exercise, all keys to successful physical therapy intervention, are similar in Telehealth as they are in-person treatments. Although hands-on treatment can be very valuable to a client’s progress, much success can be made through discussion of ways to vary daily activities, gain flexibility, build strength, and improve the function of our clients.
Visits include instruction in exercises, activities, or postures, and once camera angles are adjusted, student providers demonstrate the activities to clients. A follow-up email with an exercise program and reminders about education pieces from the visit are sent once the call has concluded.
Some amazing positives have come out of this forced opportunity with Telehealth. The student providers are learning techniques that will certainly be utilized in their future careers. Being able to see inside a client’s home and assist them in finding ways to perform the exercises in their own environment is something physical therapists strive to do when working at an in-person clinic. Telehealth makes that easier. Clients have reported the availability of telehealth makes physical therapy more accessible to them because they do not have to worry about transportation, and many report they hope that the Telehealth option remains available even once in-person treatments resume.
In a demanding year, our student leadership has risen to the challenge to continue to provide for the clients of HRC Physical Therapy and they are eager to return to a mix of in-person and telehealth visits in the years to come.
HRC Pro Bono Physical Therapy Visits continue via Zoom Telehealth. Patients with a Doctor's prescription can schedule a telehealth visit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 314-881-8088.
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