Physical Therapist Telehealth Delivery at 1 Year Into COVID-19

Phys Ther. 2022 Nov 6;102(11):pzac121. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzac121.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine telehealth physical therapy utilization 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic and identify factors that influence physical therapists' delivery of telehealth in an urban academic medical center.

Methods: Electronic medical record data were extracted within the dates of interest (March 22, 2021 to May 15, 2021), the proportion of physical therapy sessions delivered via telehealth were identified, and patient characteristics were compared by telehealth volume (0 vs ≥1 session, 1 vs >1 session). Qualitative data also were collected from physical therapists via semi-structured interviews, and a directed content analysis was conducted, informed by the Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, and Behavior model, to identify factors influencing telehealth delivery.

Results: Telehealth was used for 3793 of 8038 (47.2%) physical therapist sessions, and 1028 unique patients had at least 2 physical therapist sessions (without telehealth: 6.6% [n = 68], telehealth once: 39.1% [n = 402], telehealth more than once: 54.3% [n = 558]). Patients without telehealth were older, non-English speaking, had non-commercial insurance, and had at least 1 chronic health condition. Patients with telehealth more than once had a neurologic diagnosis and lived farther from the treating clinic. Capabilities that influenced telehealth delivery were physical therapist clinical skills and knowledge, technical proficiency, telehealth-specific interpersonal skills, and cognitive flexibility. Factors external to physical therapists-including the environment, patient equipment and technology proficiency, physical therapist equipment, clinic factors, and patient and referring provider perspectives-also influenced telehealth delivery. Finally, patient needs and telehealth as a beneficial tool guided physical therapist intention to use telehealth.

Conclusion: Sustained telehealth utilization outcomes 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic and an interaction among physical therapist, patient, and environmental factors support the long-term potential of telehealth physical therapy in an urban academic medical center.

Impact: These findings support the long-term potential of telehealth approaches and can be used to inform telehealth physical therapist training programs and clinical implementation, future research, and health policy.

Keywords: Hospital-Based; Implementation Science; Outpatient Physical Therapy; Quality Improvement; Telehealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Telemedicine*