Physical Therapy PT

| 15 December 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

Virtual Physical Therapy: Shaping the Future of Healthcare Education

A man does exercises in a virtual physical therapy session in front of a computer while a younger woman observes.

Physical therapists (PTs) have long used touch to diagnose and treat movement problems in their patients, but the rise of virtual physical therapy has changed how PTs interact with patients. Learn more about virtual physical therapy, also called telehealth physical therapy, its benefits and what it means for your physical therapy education.

What Is Telehealth Physical Therapy?

Description of virtual physical therapy.

Virtual physical therapy refers to any time physical therapists provide services via telehealth.1

Physical therapists may use telehealth physical therapy synchronously, which means the patient and the physical therapist speak to each other in real time via videoconferencing, texting or a phone call.2 Sometimes, the treatment may occur asynchronously through pre-recorded videos, emails or phone messages.

Before COVID-19, telehealth physical therapy was limited to specific government agencies, such as Veterans Affairs.3,4 However, the COVID-19 shutdown necessitated the quick implementation of virtual physical therapy so patients could start or continue physical therapy. A year later, roughly 47% of physical therapy sessions involved telehealth.5

Is Virtual Physical Therapy Effective?

While research is still ongoing, considering the relatively new nature of telehealth, studies have shown that treatment outcomes for virtual physical therapy appear to be on par with the outcomes for face-to-face physical therapy sessions.2

Virtual physical therapy offers little to no patient risk, especially when physical therapists can identify when virtual sessions are helpful and when they have access to the necessary tools to support telehealth.6

However, studies have proven that there are some instances where virtual physical therapy is not as effective:

  • Diagnosis
  • Treating some conditions, such as those involving equilibrium problems, neurological symptoms or pelvic floor issues
  • Patients with fear-avoidance or apprehension related to treatment
  • Patients without reliable internet access
  • Patients who are uncomfortable with technology or lack access to it

What Does a Virtual Physical Therapist Do?

Structure of a virtual physical therapy session.

A physical therapist diagnoses and treats patients with injuries or other health conditions that negatively impede movement or function or cause disability or pain.9 A physical therapist does the same in a virtual setting through videoconferencing or pre-recorded home exercise plan (HEP) videos.10 They demonstrate exercises and stretches for the patient, who then does the same action with the physical therapist, providing verbal feedback to improve the action.

The physical therapist may suggest the patient use resources they have available in place of equipment found in traditional physical therapy settings.10 For example, if the patient doesn’t have dumbbells, the physical therapist may ask them to use soup cans or another household item instead. They may also utilize digital tools, such as mobile applications, to track progress or gamify the recovery process.11

For virtual physical therapy sessions to work, the patient and the physical therapist need a device with video and audio capabilities, a reliable internet connection and videoconferencing software.10 The patient will also need comfortable clothing and a space cleared of obstacles to perform their exercises.

Benefits of Virtual Physical Therapy

Physical therapy offers several benefits when it is used appropriately.

Advantages of virtual physical therapy.

1. Increased Accessibility

The primary benefit of virtual physical therapy is that patients can access it from anywhere with an Internet connection and device.11 As a result, people in geographically remote locations can access physical therapists without driving long distances.4 It also eliminates barriers such as drive time, wait time in the clinic and transportation costs.10

2. Better Patient Engagement

Studies show that virtual physical therapy improves patient adherence to treatment plans and allows asynchronous access to physical therapy between sessions.2,11 Patients can ask questions or inform their physical therapist of any unexpected changes between sessions, which keeps the patient more accountable to their goals and physical therapist. This is especially true when the virtual sessions leverage tools like gamification and reminders.

3. Lower Costs

Insurance companies often use the same billing codes for in-person and virtual physical therapy sessions, so the costs for telehealth physical therapy are similar.10 However, many insurance companies may require an initial in-person visit before covering virtual visits, so ask your insurance provider before you schedule any virtual physical therapy sessions.

If you don’t have insurance, physical therapy typically costs about $75 to $150 for a session, but you may qualify for lower rates if you pay upfront in cash.12,10

Virtual Physical Therapy Is Here to Stay

Telehealth shows no signs of disappearing from the medical landscape—while telehealth utilization has fallen since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 22% of adults reported attending a virtual healthcare appointment during a four-week period in 2022.13 The telehealth market size is projected to grow nearly 20% by 2030 to a $504.24 billion-a-year industry.14

According to a 2020 study conducted over a two-month period, virtual physical therapy seems to be here to stay, with 94% of physical therapy patients reporting being at least satisfied with virtual physical therapy and 92% reporting they would be willing to attend another virtual physical therapy session.5,15

To prepare you to offer telehealth physical therapy, enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program that provides training and experience in virtual physical therapy.

Many physical therapists report the lack of touch in virtual physical therapy requires greater reliance on accurate verbal directions, which is a skill that takes time to learn.2 Developing these skills during your DPT program may help you feel more confident when you begin practicing.

How to Become a Virtual Physical Therapist

The requirements to become a virtual physical therapist are the same as becoming a physical therapist:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Consider one of the best undergraduate degrees for physical therapy.16
  2. Prepare to get into physical therapy school. Many schools require you to complete physical therapy observation hours and several letters of reference. For example, USAHS requires at least 80 physical therapy observation hours, but only requires 40 completed hours to apply. If accepted, you must prove you completed the remaining hours before you begin the program.
  3. Earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) from an accredited program. This typically takes 2.7 years.[usa_tooltop]Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, credits transferred and other factors.[/usa_tooltip]
  4. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).16
  5. Complete any additional requirements to obtain your license as identified by the state where you want to practice.17 Note that if you want to offer virtual physical therapy in multiple states, you must be licensed in each state.

Want to know more about our PT programs?

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Prepare for Virtual Physical Therapy With USAHS

As a longtime pioneer of physical therapy education, USAHS began offering virtual clinical training during the pandemic. Through our didactic courses, hands-on lab practice with mock patients and supervised clinical rotations, our students graduate from our physical therapy degree programs ready to treat patients in person and virtually.

If you’re ready to transform lives through physical therapy, apply to our DPT program today. Whether you can exclusively attend school or need the flexibility to accommodate work and family responsibilities, we have a pathway to a degree that works for you. As a USAHS graduate, you’ll join a network of more than ten thousand practicing physical therapist alums.


  1. American Physical Therapy Association, “Telehealth Physical Therapy Is Provided by Licensed Therapists, Not Technology,” American Physical Therapy Association, last modified September 2021,
  2. Himani, “Telehealth Physical Therapy: Things You Need To Know,” Mantra Care,
  3. American Telemedicine Association, “Telehealth: Defining 21st Century Care,” American Telemedicine Association
  4. Neta Roitenberg and Noa Ben-Ami, “Qualitative Exploration of Physical Therapists’ Experiences Providing Telehealth Physical Therapy During COVID-19,” National Library of Medicine, last modified August 2023,
  5. M Jake Grundstein, Charles Fisher, Matthew Titmuss, and JeMe Cioppa-Mosca, “The Role of Virtual Physical Therapy in a Post-Pandemic World: Pearls, Pitfalls, Challenges, and Adaptations,” Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal, last modified September 2021,
  6. Yevgenia Jane Gitlin-Nitti, Chirag D. Shah, and Viktoria Kharlamb, “A Physical Therapist’s Role in Clinical Video Telehealth,” National Library of Medicine, last modified July 2015,
  7. Matthew J Miller, Sang S Pak, Daniel R Keller, Allison M. Gustavson, and Deborah E. Barnes, “Physical Therapist Telehealth Delivery at 1 Year Into COVID-19,” National Library of Medicine, last modified November 2022,
  8. Finish Line PT, “ An Introduction to Physical Therapy,” Finish Line PT, last modified April 2020,
  9. Becoming a physical therapist. APTA. (n.d.).,improve%20physical%20function%20and%20fitness.
  10. American Physical Therapy Association, “Becoming a PT,” American Physical Therapy Association, .
  11. Ana Gascon Ivey, “Telehealth Physical Therapy: The Guide to Virtual PT,” GoodRX, last modified February 2023,
  12. American Physical Therapy Association, “The Digitally Enabled Physical Therapist: An APTA Foundational Paper,” American Physical Therapy Association, last modified November 2022,
  13. Ortho Bethesda, “How Much Does Physical Therapy Cost?” Ortho Bethesda
  14. Euny C. Lee, Violanda Grigorescu, India Enogieru, Scott R. Smith, Lok Wong Samson, Ann B. Conmy, and Nancy De Lew, “Updated National Survey Trends in Telehealth Utilization and Modality (2021-2022),” Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, last modified April 2023,
  15. Fortune Business Insights, “Telehealth Market Size, Share & COVID-19 Impact Analysis, By Type (Products and Services), By Application (Telemedicine, Patient Monitoring, Continuous Medical Education, and Others), By Modality (Real-time (Synchronous), Store-and-forward (Asynchronous), and Remote Patient Monitoring), By End-User (Hospital Facilities, Homecare, and Others), and Regional Forecast, 2023-2030,” Fortune Business Insights, last modified June 2023,
  16. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, “How To Become a Physical Therapist,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified September 2023,
  17. American Physical Therapy Association, “Licensure,” American Physical Therapy Association,

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