COVID-19 has forced many healthcare professionals to take their services online in a telehealth setting. With years of experience in face-to-face patient care, the shift to an online model is just as challenging to the practitioner as it is for the patient.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and federal government have both taken action to allow healthcare professionals to use telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions include lifting restrictions and expanding telehealth access and services.
Cassie Laughrey Petre, DPT graduated from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences’ Flex Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in the summer of 2019. Her training in the flex program unknowingly prepared her for the pandemic, making for a smoother transition to telehealth care for herself and her clients.
While she was in the program, she worked as an Exercise Physiologist at a clinic in Gilbert, AZ, called Banner Neuro Wellness (BNW). The clinic provides group fitness and support groups for the chronic degenerative neurological population, primarily those with a Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis, but our community includes members with Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebellar Ataxia, Huntington’s and other rare chronic diseases like Sjogren’s Syndrome.
After graduation, she transitioned into a part-time role as a Physical Therapist at BNW and took on another role at Nelson Pediatric Therapy earlier this year. There she provides both in clinic and in-home visits to the special needs pediatric population. Her current client load ranges from 3-18-year-olds with a variety of diagnoses, including but not limited to Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Hydrocephaly.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the wellness classes at BNW and all face to face interventions at both sites have been put on hold,” she said. “The transition to virtual services was an overwhelming one at first.”
For her older clients at BNW, the sudden need to use technology was hard for them to handle. The aging population, their neurological conditions, and without help from family or friends to assist with setup due to COVID limiting visits, the shift to virtual therapy was challenging. At the pediatric clinic, things ran pretty smoothly because of help from family members and clients’ familiarity with the technology.
“Even with a less than smooth transition for some patients, overall, I feel I’ve managed to develop a new normal within this virtual world with my patients and we are able to have some very productive sessions with both populations,” Dr. Laughrey Petre said.
She said that both populations seem excited to interact with someone outside of their household. The sessions help clients feel less isolated during this time and even gives them something to look forward to. It has also opened their eyes to what goes into making a therapy session happen, and it has shown Dr. Laughrey Petre the kind of barriers her patients face in their homes on a daily basis.
“With both populations a slight downside is the limitations distance puts on interventions with telehealth. There’s a new layer of danger that distance interventions bring,” she explained. This makes her extra attentive to the exercises and activities she prescribes. On top of that, each client has a different home environment to work with, space, equipment, and general understanding of activities. One patient can be in their bedroom while the next has a full home gym. She to adapt to not just the different needs and diagnoses per patient, but their differing environments.
“While this can be challenging at times, I welcome the challenge. It makes you think on your feet, tapping into your innovation and creativity as a therapist, working with what you’ve got and definitely prevents the cookie cutter method,” she said.
Dr. Laughrey Petre attributes her ability to be flexible with patient care and technology to her education at USAHS. As a Flex DPT student, she had to be comfortable with technology and various applications of teleconferencing. The program also pushed her to be a “self-starter,” which made her a great communicator and very organized.
“Having been exposed to the distance learning format, I was able to transfer many of those fundamental tools from an education setting having been the student before to now being the therapy “teacher” so to speak,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back to the same room as most of my patients, but I think telehealth is a valuable tool in our toolbox and I hope that it remains an option as we move into this new era of healthcare.”