Stay Connected With Your PT Through Telehealth

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for a lot of bad stuff. But, if you look really hard and maybe squint just right, there are a few less-than-terrible things to be found. The pandemic forced society to quickly adapt. It pushed forward the adoption of new technologies like Zoom and new ways of doing things, like working from home. There were changes in rules, regulations, and payment related to telehealth. A lot of patients and providers experienced their first virtual health appointment in the past 2 years, and many of them see the benefits. The pandemic forced the telehealth genie from the bottle. Now that patients and providers have seen the benefits, it’s not going back.

Why telehealth is here to stay

Telehealth isn’t going to replace in-person rehab, but it’s likely going to complement it heavily. Research has shown that telehealth is as effective as in-person rehab for a lot of conditions. It’s also shown high satisfaction rates from patients – up to 94% in some studies. For a lot of people, telehealth makes sense. Think about people trapped at home because of a snowstorm or those who are at high risk of falling on the ice. Before the wide adoption of telehealth, these patients didn’t get to see their PT during the winter. Now, they can stay connected virtually and continue healing through the bad weather. Telehealth can also work well for busy people. Patients can check in or have a visit with their PT on their lunch break, or while their kids are at practice.

Where telehealth could go

Even though there have been big advances in telehealth, we’re still in the early phases. It’s hard to predict how telehealth will be used in the future and how it will evolve, but expect it to look a lot different in 5 years. The software being used for telehealth will continue to get better. Expect a more engaging user experience with educational content and maybe some gamification – levels to achieve, points or badges to collect, or some other metric. Hardware will also continue to advance. Maybe the fitness tracker you already have will integrate into your telehealth app, letting your PT track your activity, heart rate, and other metrics. Remote stethoscopes, scales and other medical equipment already exist and will continue to become more common as prices decline.

While telehealth has certainly seen a big advance because of the pandemic, most people still see it as an adjunct to in-person visits. Right now, telehealth tends to be used because it’s more convenient than a visit in real life, not because it’s better. With advances in software platforms and hardware options, telehealth could evolve into something just as good as in person rehab that makes high quality rehab available to everyone.

What If Your COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away?

You may have heard about people who got a COVID-19 infection and have symptoms for weeks or months after. This is now referred to as Long COVID. In this post we’re going to dive into what Long COVID is, what the symptoms are and who it affects. Next month we’ll talk about strategies that are helping people with Long COVID and where physical therapy fits in. Let’s get started.

What is Long COVID?

Long COVID is generally defined as ongoing signs or symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more after a COVID-19 infection.

What is it like?

Like all things COVID-19, we don’t fully understand Long COVID and new information is being discovered all the time. Long COVID tends to involve more than one system and currently has a list of over 200 possible symptoms.

The most common are:
1.  Fatigue
2.  Post-exertional symptom exacerbation (PESE)
3.  Problems with memory or concentration, often referred to as “brain fog”

Other common symptoms are shortness or breath, chest pain or tightness, insomnia, muscle or joint pain, depression/anxiety, and stomach problems like stomach aches, loss of appetite or diarrhea.

What’s the fatigue like? Does rest help?

Long COVID fatigue is an extreme exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest or sleep. It’s not fatigue after some physically demanding task. People experience exhaustion for no obvious reason. The fatigue is so severe that it impacts the ability to complete daily tasks.

What about this PESE thing?

Post-exertional symptom exacerbation is a disabling and often delayed exhaustion disproportionate to the effort made. Patients are referring to this as a “crash”. PESE is very common in people suffering from Long COVID. 75% of people who have Long COVID have PESE after 6 months. The activity that brings on the crash is something that the person could easily tolerate before their COVID-19 infection. Things like taking a shower, walking, attending a social activity, or even being in a high sensory environment with flashing lights and loud noises may all now trigger a crash.

Who does Long COVID affect?

This is difficult to answer. We still don’t understand what causes some people to have symptoms long after their initial infection. What we do know is that about 25% of people who get COVID have symptoms that last at least a month. Around 10% of the people who get the virus will experience Long COVID. Long COVID isn’t related to how severe your initial symptoms were, or if you were hospitalized. It also doesn’t appear to be related to your previous health as it affects children and people who were previously fit and healthy.

Now that you know what Long COVID is, in our next installment we’ll talk about what’s being done for it and how physical therapy helps.

Will COVID-19 Change the Typical PT Patient?

People usually see a physical therapist for pain or loss of function. Think of the person who has
back pain, the injured athlete or the person who’s had a stroke. They all want to improve how
they move and complete tasks. Now, there is good reason to wonder if physical therapists will
start seeing more people who are not in pain or having difficulty moving. Why would these
people come to a PT? To improve their overall health and wellness.

There is strong evidence suggesting that movement is a valuable predictor of future health
and resilience against disease. Physical therapists are movement specialists, so taking
advantage of their expertise makes sense if your goal is to become healthier and live longer.
Here are some examples of the power of movement when it comes to predicting future health:

Gait Velocity

Gait velocity is how fast you walk. Studies have shown that if your typical walking speed is over
1 m/s or 3.3 ft/s, you’re likely able to complete typical daily activities independently. You’re also
less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to have adverse events like falls.

If you’d like to test yourself, measure out a straight, flat course to walk between 10′ and 30′ long.
You’ll also need 5′ or so at the beginning and the end for acceleration and deceleration. Walk
the course at your typical speed and divide the length of the course by how long it took you to
walk it (distance/time). That’s your gait velocity.

Get On and Off the Floor

A series of studies suggest that if you can go from standing to sitting on the floor and back to
standing without using your hands, you’re a lot less likely to die than someone who can’t. It’s
called the sitting-rising test. Here’s how it works:

You start standing, and without support you sit down on the floor, then stand back up. You start
with a score of 10. Every time you put a hand, knee, forearm or the side of your leg on the floor
you lose 1 point. Putting a hand on your knee or thigh to help also costs a point. In a sample of
over 2,000 people, they found that scoring less than 8 points made you twice as likely to die in
the next 6 years when compared to people who scored higher. Score 3 or less and you’re 5
times more likely to die in the same period. Overall, each point in the test is worth a 21%
decrease in mortality from all causes.

Notice that both gait velocity and the sitting-rising test aren’t specific to any one thing. The risk
of hospitalization in the gait velocity studies was hospitalization for any reason. Death in the
sitting-rising studies was death from anything. So while we know that exercise and healthy
lifestyle reduce your risk of specific diseases like heart disease or diabetes, it appears that
being able to move may provide much more wide ranging protection than we previously thought.