Remote physiotherapy and digitally-enabled MSK treatment is here to stay, due to seismic shifts in patient behaviour and the long-term adoption of digital healthcare.
In 2020 we delivered more online physiotherapy appointments than any other healthcare provider (a total of 150,000 face-to-face video consultations sessions) and were also the first to publish compelling evidence about the effectiveness of digitally-enabled MSK physiotherapy treatment - see our 2020 paper on the CSP research database here.
Thanks to the proven outcomes and high quality of our digital MSK services, patients are coming back for more and we are expanding our Virtual Physiotherapy Team.
Alice Bowker, a Physiotherapist and Mentor within our Virtual Physiotherapy team, talks about what it is like to work as a remote physiotherapist using our cutting-edge technology from her own home.
How do you work as a virtual remote physiotherapist day-to-day?
As a virtual physiotherapist I manage a varied patient caseload working from home and using our digital health tools, which include Ascenti’s integrated workflow system and patient app.
I start my working day by switching on my computer and reviewing my diary and patient caseload.
Through Ascenti’s in-house workflow system, I review details provided by patients in advance using their digital triage questionnaire that they complete when booking their appointment.
The digital triage is useful for many reasons, from highlighting certain symptoms for us as therapists to clinically reasoning how a patient may present during their initial assessment. This allows us to be more informed about the patient’s condition before having the call.
I use my webcam and microphone via my work laptop to communicate with my patients after they accept their call. The app informs me when my patient is online and then allows me to send a call.
If the patient is not online, it allows me to send an email invitation. Ensuring consent and data protection is gathered, we then proceed with our subjective assessment with a goal focused approach and then an objective assessment followed by a discussion surrounding our clinical impression and plan going forward.
When completing initial assessments, we have the ability to book patients in for face-to-face physiotherapy or guided self-management (virtual appointments via our app) depending on clinical need and appropriateness.
Tell us a bit more about the app you use to deliver the appointments with patients?
We use our own healthcare tool called the Ascenti Physio App which is a great platform for patients to see their exercise plan and allows them to grade each exercise.
We add outcome measures to review progression from start to finish, and we can track the patient's compliance with exercises.
It is simple and easy for therapists to add exercises, and it is also great for expanding your own knowledge of exercises in areas such as strengthening, pregnancy-care and elderly rehabilitation.
What is your patient caseload like as a virtual remote physiotherapist?
I manage a varied patient caseload and talk to lots of different people from across all areas of the UK every day.
The patients that I see could have been referred to us for treatment through a Private Medical Insurance (PMI) provider like Vitality, a digital app such as Patient Access or MyGP, the NHS or a legal agency as part of an accident or insurance claim. I also treat self-paying patients who have found us online and booked their treatment through our website.
My patients present with lots of different MSK conditions, and no day is the same. I see a lot of sporting-related injuries and work-related injuries on a more regular basis, especially due to the pandemic as people have had a change of workstation and took on new hobbies.
What is the most important skill needed to be a great Virtual Physiotherapist?
The most important part of my role is communicating well so that I can assess my patients thoroughly online and deliver safe and efficient physiotherapy care.
Understanding the patient's condition and creating a strong rapport allows me to ensure that they are cared for using the most appropriate treatment pathway and management strategies.
What do you enjoy the most about working as a remote virtual physiotherapist?
I enjoy seeing my patients really understand and improve with advice and exercises. Being able to monitor their progress and how they adhere to the management plans that I prescribe using technology is revolutionary as a clinician.
The digital tools that my patients use and that I use to manage my caseload enable me to spend more time focusing on advice, exercises, and holistic goal-based discussions in my appointments. For example, they submit more information about their conditions before our appointments using our app and triage tools, which in-clinic you would typically spend the first ten minutes discussing.
My virtual patients improve holistically and develop a sense of confidence in themselves and their own bodies.
Holding remote video consultations has enabled me to utilise all my communication skills fully and has undoubtedly helped me to develop my skills as a clinician.
What are the challenges of working from home?
Working from home can pose some challenges including keeping connected with colleagues and ensuring you have a suitable work set up, however as a company, we utilise online channels every day such as Microsoft Teams and our employee intranet, which has allowed me to be more connected to my colleagues than ever before.
Working in the virtual team has allowed me to get to know my colleagues from all over the nation and improved our team working.
Ensuring an appropriate environment can be a struggle, however I have had a home-based assessment conducted and I have been supplied with equipment to ensure I am well supported in my working environment.
What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in becoming a Virtual Physiotherapist?
If you are keen on progressing patients holistically by expanding your knowledge of exercise-based therapy and the power of advice, this role would be great for you.
This role is ideal for those who are confident with their communication skills and those who are keen to improve these skills.
High quality remote physiotherapy is an innovative way of assessing and treating patients which has been welcomed by patients and clinicians alike. It is a new direction of physiotherapy which is exciting to be part of.