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Cochrane Physiotherapists adapting to COVID-19

"You only have one opportunity to be on the right side of history and I think physiotherapists right now are stepping up and when we all look back on what we've done as profession we're are going to be pretty proud of what we've done and how we've managed ourself through this."
Photo provided by Serge Tessier.

COCHRANE— Adapting to the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, physiotherapists are delivering their services to those in need a little bit differently.

Cochrane Sport Physio and Massage along with physiotherapists around the country have taken action by launching Telehealth. The remote digital treatment service allows for communication to continue between therapists and their clients during this uncertain time.

"We can't just assume that people are at home and are going to be a-OK, we have to have some sort of tabs on them," said Serge Tessier, physiotherapist and owner of Cochrane Sport Physio and Massage. "That's what this platform does is it allows us to interact face-to-face with clients. It's definitely not the hands-on manual stuff that we would normally do in clinic but it is at least a way for us to monitor and progress exercises and make those meaningful connections."

Telehealth offers a secure and encrypted real-time video connection made to host the "virtual" clinic session. Patients can access this treatment method in place of the standard in-person encounter. Tessier believes this service will maintain a level of normalcy and continuity of treatment during the pandemic.

A typical in-clinic treatment would start with a discussion followed by the client demonstrating their range in movement. This would be accompanied by the physiotherapist manually assisting the client through a series of exercises.

"Aside from the hands-on, it's much the same. I've always said that 90 per cent of what I do as a physical therapist is I'm an educator and the biggest reason for that is the compliance of what I send clients home with to do, which is the most important part and why this Telehealth works, is that they understand why they are doing it," Tessier said. "Don't get me wrong, this is no substitute for hands-on treatment in clinic and I don't question for a second that when this is all said and done that Telehealth will fall into the background as a way of reaching out to people who wouldn't receive it otherwise."

For those who have suffered an injury, have previous ailments, or are recovering from a recent surgery the services provided by physiotherapists are essential. Tessier said there has been some grey area in deciphering what falls under the bubble of non-essential. While he continues to receive information from the professional regulatory body, The Alberta Physiotherapy Association and the Federal College, The Canadian Physiotherapy Association, he is also receiving information from the chief medical officer and the federal government. 

"Our professional body has identified specific criteria that some patients would meet and classify as urgent need. These would be people that would be in imminent medical concern if they didn't get physiotherapy," Tessier said.

He added a challenge has been the ability to assess a new client. When a plan is already in place for an existing client, it's easy to move forward and continue to follow up, however with new clients it will be a matter of somewhat guessing what is going on and staying on the safe side of things. Tessier said this could potentially involve referring them to emergency rooms and or family physicians as a last result.

"That's where this is really important is minimizing or lessening the stress on the healthcare system in general. If we can take 60 per cent of what would end up in urgent care or family physician or emergency room, then physiotherapists will help in the big picture of the stress that's going to come down the pipe here for our healthcare system," he said.

While many insurance companies have opened their policies to include Telehealth, not all have made the shift to the online service. Tessier said for the last few weeks he has noticed several companies tweaking their plans to allow Telehealth to be covered.

"Sun Life, Manulife and Blue Cross are the leading ones that have said 'yes we cover.' Canadlife says on their website that they are covering virtual health care for most plans and those are the main ones we deal with," Tessier said. "In another two weeks, I imagine that insurance companies are going to be forced to reconsider their stance on Telehealth because it's just really the only viable option to have clients treated."

Tessier confirmed physiotherapists, as well as the dietitians and nutritionists, will continue to see clients via Telehealth even if clients are not currently covered. He added that the logistics will be sorted out when all of this subsides because helping their clients is the right thing to do right now.

"We should all be managing our health as best we can from the social confines of having to be at home," Tessier said. 

"It's one of two options right now, something or nothing and I'm wanting to comfort people that the something is considerable and if they access it, they will quickly see value in what Telehealth physio can do for them."