Feasibility and Acceptability of Telemedicine to Substitute Outpatient Rehabilitation Services in the COVID-19 Emergency in Italy: An Observational Everyday Clinical-Life Study

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2020 Nov;101(11):2027-2032. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2020.08.001. Epub 2020 Aug 12.


Objectives: To investigate the feasibility and acceptability of telemedicine as a substitute for outpatient services in emergency situations such as the sudden surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy.

Design: Observational cohort study with historical control.

Setting: Tertiary referral outpatient institute.

Participants: Consecutive services provided to patients with spinal disorders (N=1207).

Interventions: Telemedicine services included teleconsultations and telephysiotherapy, and lasted as long as usual interventions. They were delivered using free teleconference apps, caregivers were actively involved, and interviews and counseling were performed as usual. Teleconsultations included standard, but adapted, measurements and evaluations by video and from photographs and videos sent in advance according to specific tutorials. During telephysiotherapy, new sets of exercises were defined and recorded as usual.

Main outcome measures: We compared the number of services provided in 3 phases, including corresponding periods in 2018 and 2019. During the control (30 working d) and COVID-19 surge (13d) only usual consultations and physiotherapy were provided; during the telemed phase (15d), only teleconsultations and telephysiotherapy were provided. If a reliable medical decision was not possible during teleconsultations, usual face-to-face interventions were prescribed. Continuous quality improvement questionnaires were also evaluated.

Results: During telemed, 325 teleconsulations and 882 telephysiotherapy sessions were provided in 15 days. We found a rapid decrease (-39%) of outpatient services from the control to the COVID-19 phase (R2=0.85), which partially recovered in the telemed phase for telephysiotherapy (from -37% to -21%; P<.05) and stabilized for teleconsultation (from -55% to -60%) interventions. Usual face-to-face interventions were required for 0.5% of patients. Patients' satisfaction with telemedicine was very high (2.8 out of 3).

Conclusions: Telemedicine is feasible and allows medical professionals to continue providing outpatient services with a high level of patient satisfaction. During the current pandemic, this experience can provide a viable alternative for many outpatient services while reducing the need for travel and face-to-face contact to a minimum.

Keywords: Epidemics; Outpatients; Rehabilitation; Telemedicine; Telerehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care / methods
  • Ambulatory Care / psychology*
  • COVID-19*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients / psychology*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Rehabilitation / methods
  • Rehabilitation / psychology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spinal Diseases / psychology
  • Spinal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Telemedicine / methods*