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September 8, 2015

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Physiotherapy – the rise of remote treatment

Mark Fletcher, Clinical Director of Physio Med, discusses whether remote physiotherapy holds the key to reducing sickness absence, and the associated costs.

Physiotherapy has long been recognised as an effective treatment that aids a patient’s recovery from a number of injuries and conditions. It’s fair to say that most people would assume physiotherapy is specifically a hands-on treatment, when in fact face-to-face consultation isn’t always necessary. New technologies and online treatment programmes are being put in place throughout the healthcare industry to help streamline the consultation and treatment process, and physiotherapy is no exception.

The benefits of physiotherapy are not limited to reducing an individual’s pain. From an employer’s point of view, referring an employee for quick physiotherapy treatment can significantly reduce the number of working days taken as sick leave. This, in turn, reduces the expense associated with sickness absence which is currently estimated to cost the UK economy £100 billion a year.

One NHS Trust recorded a 58% reduction in days lost amongst the employees that were referred to Physio Med’s service. These high figures show just how effective physiotherapy can be and so, with more and more businesses looking for cost effective solutions, the answer could lie in remote physiotherapy.

The use of remote treatment in the healthcare sector is gradually growing, with telecare and telehealth services amongst the most prominent. Technology such as personal alarms and health monitoring devices are used to reduce the need for people with long-term conditions to make regular visits to the doctor’s surgery. Department of Health research showed that telehealth and telecare has the potential to save the NHS up to £1.2 billion over five years.

Some GP surgeries are operating telephone triage appointments to determine the appropriate level of care in a quick and efficient way. Studies have shown that a vast number of calls could be dealt with on the phone without need for a face-to-face appointment.

This remote way of monitoring health is now considered commonplace, yet many question whether treatments such as physiotherapy can be treated without face-to-face consultation. However, with the right instruction and resources many patients can successfully self-manage their condition.

From a business perspective, there’s no doubt that early access to qualified physiotherapists and effective treatment can help both employer and employee and we believe our blended approach of remote triage, assessment and treatment – combined with face-to-face treatment where needed, offer just that.

Using Physio Med’s service, employees who report an injury can be contacted by the Physiotherapy Advice Line (PAL) system for telephone triage within hours of referral to determine if they are clinically appropriate for treatment. The next step is an initial assessment call with a Senior Chartered Physiotherapist, which incorporates a series of evidence-based clinical questions and movements to help to determine whether patients are referred for face-to-face treatment or should continue with the remote physiotherapy service.

In the majority of cases, patients continue treatment remotely. This service provides employees with an individually tailored web-based self-management plan and exercise programme, communicated via comprehensive video exercise files, and accessed via a computer, smartphone or tablet.

One of the major advantages of this online service is the accessibility of it – enabling employees to tap into the service quickly, at a convenient time and via a platform that they are comfortable with. Staff can then get on with their lives without having to worry about appointments and can follow their treatment plan when it suits them.

The majority of patients remain at or return to work when they might normally be absent, and are often discharged after just ten days with a reported average reduction in pain of up to 68 per cent. One leading dairy producer reported that 86% of those off sick at the point of referral returned to work, plus a 28% increase in productivity and function which equated to 1.4 days per person per week.

From an employers’ point of view, investing in a scheme which gives employees fast access to treatment is extremely cost effective. As the remote service operates on a pay-as-you-use basis, it is scalable and therefore allows businesses of all sizes to access the benefits.

It’s clear that, for many organisations, utilising technology to provide remote services can significantly reduce sickness absence and the costs associated with it. Looking forward, telehealth services are likely to rise in popularity across the healthcare industry. Employers must now look at how they can employ these innovative new procedures and systems to benefit not only themselves, but their employees too.

Mark Fletcher is clinical director of Physio Med

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