Facilitating Successful Return to Work with Telerehabilitation

How has MedRisk’s telerehab program increased access and engagement for injured workers? Director of Clinical Services Brian Peers, DPT, shares his insights.

From DIY home improvement videos to virtual mental health services, online platforms have changed the way we get professional help when we need it. It should, therefore, be no surprise that technology has infiltrated the world of rehabilitation. However, MedRisk’s Telerehabilitation Program isn’t just about jumping on the bandwagon of a popular fad – the idea was born out of the needs of the injured worker.

For more than 25 years, MedRisk has been the liaison among patients, providers and payers. Now, for the first time, MedRisk is leveraging HIPAA-compliant, secure videoconferencing technology to help busy and clinically eligible patients take advantage of the convenience that a virtual rehabilitation program can provide.

How has the telerehabilitation program changed the return-to-work journey for MedRisk-referred patients? We sat down with MedRisk’s Director of Clinical Services Brian Peers, DPT, to get a closer look.

Traditional Vs. Telerehab

Traditionally, recovery from a worker’s comp injury has involved several trips to a brick-and-mortar PT clinic prior to discharge; however, MedRisk’s virtual tools and therapeutic methodology now make it possible for some or all of injured worker treatment to be completed virtually, from just about anywhere.

In order for patients to be eligible to participate in the telerehab program, they must meet MedRisk’s three-pronged enrollment criteria. According to Peers, they must be “ready,” meaning they have the technology and skills needed to access and utilize the online platform. They must also be “willing” – that is, they must express an interest in participating. And, finally, they must be deemed “able” to take part in the program, based on a clinical assessment of the type and severity of their injury as well as the nature of their treatment plan.

Increasing Patient Engagement

There are some injuries for which in-person physical therapy will always be necessary; however, as the program’s track record shows, for many patients, treatment does not need to be on-site in order to be engaging and effective.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for telerehab patients is the undivided attention they receive from a dedicated PT in their sessions. With telerehab, there are no other patients in the room; therapy is one-on-one. This enhanced level of support allows therapists to ensure compliance throughout the duration of treatment and help engage and encourage patients as they regain their strength. The platform also offers a virtual “open door” to a physical therapist should any questions or concerns arise.

“When you go to your primary care doctor, you typically have an exam, and then maybe your doctor asks, ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ This is the most impactful part of the experience because you can say ‘Well, my neighbor told me…’ or ‘What would happen if …?” Likewise, for the injured worker, we are finding the most valuable benefit of telerehab, in addition to the technical instruction, is that one-on-one time with their therapist. With telerehab, patients have that ‘facetime’ for the whole visit,” Peers said.

In addition to live video conferencing, patients benefit from customized exercise assignments, a video library and resources available within the platform’s online portal throughout guided therapy and in between appointments. They can log their exercises, view notes from a recent session, schedule a virtual “face-to-face” visit, and communicate with their MedRisk provider through secure messaging.

“Initially, a patient may be very dependent on the therapist; however, as treatment progresses, it’s about making sure the patient has a clear understanding of their condition and how to independently manage it. Telerehab allows us to engage with the patient during this period when recovery becomes a more active process.”

Program Outcomes

Feedback from the program’s first two years has been overwhelmingly positive. It has a 95% satisfaction rate, with patients citing “convenience” and “1:1 time with the therapist” as top benefits of the program. A blended model of in-clinic care and telerehab shows 20-35% savings compared to comparable claims, and patients have seen up to a 36% decrease in duration of care over standard treatment.

In fact, the program has generated such interest that MedRisk now offers large employers the option of staffing large facilities with a MedRisk PT trained in delivering care via live video-conferencing. This onsite PT is trained in the employer safety protocols so they can deliver in-person therapy at the company’s home office as well as deliver consistent care to employees at smaller satellite offices via the telerehabilitation platform.

“It’s been gratifying to witness the success of the program,” Peer said. “We are hearing from patients, ‘I wish I had done this sooner.’ I think it’s fair to say it’s working, and it’s working better than any of us had ever expected.”