Elderly Asian woman in a telehealth physical therapy appointment

The Impact of Telehealth on Physical Therapy

Harnessing the digital revolution: exploring how telehealth is transforming physical therapy practices.

Elderly Asian woman in a telehealth physical therapy appointment

Telehealth, a term encompassing a range of digital technologies and communication tools, has emerged as a transformative force in the healthcare industry. Its significance lies in the ability to provide remote medical services and consultations, enabling healthcare professionals to connect with patients regardless of geographical barriers. This paradigm shift is fueled by advancements in technology, improved internet connectivity, and a growing recognition of the need for accessible and convenient healthcare solutions. Telehealth not only facilitates routine check-ups and consultations but also extends its reach to specialized fields such as physical therapy, revolutionizing the way rehabilitation and therapeutic services are delivered.

In recent years, the adoption of telehealth has witnessed a rapid surge across various medical disciplines. The convenience and efficiency it offers have led to increased acceptance among both healthcare providers and patients. Physical therapy, in particular, has embraced telehealth as a means to enhance patient care. Patients can now receive guidance on exercises, rehabilitation programs, and even real-time monitoring of their progress from the comfort of their homes. This shift not only caters to the demands of a tech-savvy patient population but also addresses challenges related to access, especially in remote or underserved areas.

Amidst the broader transformation, Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) find themselves playing a crucial role in adapting to the changing landscape of healthcare delivery. As key members of the rehabilitation team, PTAs are leveraging telehealth to support and collaborate with physical therapists in delivering effective care. This includes remotely guiding patients through exercises, tracking their adherence to treatment plans, and providing valuable feedback. The integration of telehealth into the realm of physical therapy highlights the adaptability of healthcare professionals and underscores the collaborative nature of modern rehabilitation practices.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth refers to the utilization of digital technologies and communication tools to deliver healthcare services remotely. This encompasses a wide range of applications, including virtual consultations, remote monitoring, and the exchange of health information through electronic means. The aim is to bridge the gap between healthcare providers and patients, enabling access to medical services without the constraints of physical proximity.

The primary purpose of telehealth is to enhance access to healthcare, particularly in situations where in-person visits may pose challenges. Geographical barriers, limited mobility, or urgent medical needs are among the factors that can impede individuals from seeking traditional face-to-face care. Telehealth addresses these obstacles by offering a convenient and efficient alternative. Patients can consult with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their homes, reducing the need for travel and allowing for timely access to medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.

In addition to improving accessibility, telehealth plays a crucial role in preventive care and early intervention. Regular virtual check-ups and remote monitoring enable healthcare providers to track patients’ health conditions, identify potential issues early on, and intervene proactively. This not only enhances the overall quality of care but also contributes to better health outcomes by addressing health concerns in their early stages, before they escalate into more serious conditions. Explore how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant to learn more about the qualifications, requirements, and responsibilities of physical therapist assistants.

The Evolution of Telehealth in Physical Therapy

The history of telemedicine and telehealth closely follows the history and evolution of communication and information technologies. Initially, telehealth applications were limited by the available technology, and the use of video calls for physical therapy consultations was a novel but somewhat constrained approach. As internet connectivity and digital communication tools improved over the years, so did the potential for remote healthcare services. Technological advancements have played a pivotal role in facilitating the seamless integration of telehealth into physical therapy practices. High-speed internet, improved video and audio quality, and the proliferation of smartphones and other connected devices have transformed the telehealth landscape. These advancements enable real-time video consultations, virtual exercise demonstrations, and even remote monitoring of patients’ progress. Mobile applications and wearable devices equipped with sensors allow physical therapists to gather valuable data about patients’ movements and adherence to prescribed exercises.

While telehealth was not new to the space, it certainly was not utilized or commonplace in the profession until March 2020. In fact, one could argue that COVID-19 was the catalyst for telehealth’s massive expansion in the physical therapy world. There was a significant acceleration in the integration of telehealth into various medical disciplines, including physical therapy, driven by the increasing need for convenient and accessible healthcare solutions. According to the NIH, telehealth was used for 47.2% of physical therapist sessions, and 1028 unique patients had at least two physical therapist sessions.

Asian man in a video telehealth appointment

The convergence of these technological breakthroughs has not only expanded the scope of telehealth in physical therapy but has also enhanced the overall quality of remote rehabilitation services. The proportion of physical therapists using telehealth technology during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, for example, rose from <5% to nearly 50% in 1 year. The urgent need for infection control, reimbursement policy changes, and continued rehabilitation access likely facilitated the rapid adoption of telehealth among physical therapists.  Moreover, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has identified the concept of the digitally enabled physical therapist as a framework for addressing the role of digital health in physical therapy care. Digital technologies can never replace the value or role of the PT or PTA but can enable clinicians to expand their reach and deliver critical data on patient progress and outcomes.

Opportunities for PTAs in Telehealth

The integration of telehealth in physical therapy has significantly expanded the reach and accessibility of rehabilitation services. Geographical barriers and limited mobility are no longer impediments for individuals seeking physical therapy, as telehealth allows patients to connect with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their homes. This increased accessibility is particularly beneficial for individuals in rural or underserved areas who may have limited access to in-person healthcare services. Telehealth in physical therapy has also proven instrumental in providing continuity of care during times when in-person visits may be challenging, such as during public health crises or inclement weather events.

Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) are playing a crucial role in the delivery of remote care through telehealth. As integral members of the healthcare team, PTAs can assist physical therapists in conducting virtual sessions by guiding patients through exercises, monitoring their progress, and ensuring proper technique. PTAs’ hands-on expertise can be effectively translated into remote care scenarios, contributing to the overall success of telehealth interventions. This collaborative approach not only enhances patient outcomes but also showcases the adaptability and versatility of PTAs in embracing innovative healthcare practices.

With the growing prominence of telehealth, there is a potential for PTAs to specialize in virtual care and carve out unique roles within telehealth teams. PTAs can focus on developing expertise in remote patient assessment, utilizing digital tools for monitoring and feedback, and mastering the nuances of delivering effective virtual rehabilitation. This specialization can position PTAs as valuable contributors to virtual care teams, enabling them to address the unique challenges and opportunities presented by telehealth in physical therapy. As telehealth continues to evolve, PTAs can leverage their skills and become pivotal players in shaping the future of remote rehabilitation services. Check out the top physical therapist assistant jobs to learn more about career opportunities as a physical therapy assistant.

The Benefits of Telehealth in Physical Therapy

The following is a list of benefits and their potential implications for PTAs:

Expanded Reach

Telehealth allows PTAs to reach a broader patient population, including those in remote or underserved areas, overcoming geographical barriers to healthcare access, democratizing access to high-quality physical therapy services, and fostering a more inclusive and patient-centric approach to rehabilitation.

Increased Accessibility

Accessibility refers to the removal of barriers that traditionally hindered patients from accessing physical therapy services. Telehealth enhances the ease with which individuals can obtain care, making rehabilitation services more readily available and convenient. This benefit is particularly impactful for diverse patient groups, including those in rural areas, individuals with mobility limitations, and those facing challenges in attending in-person appointments.

Convenient Scheduling

One of the key advantages of telehealth’s convenient scheduling is the removal of geographical limitations. PTAs can seamlessly coordinate appointments with patients irrespective of their location, fostering accessibility to care regardless of the distance between the healthcare provider and the individual seeking rehabilitation services. Patients, in turn, experience the convenience of attending appointments without the need for time-consuming commutes, making it easier to integrate physical therapy into their daily routines.

Elderly woman performing exercises in a telehealth appointment

Continuity of Care

Another advantage of telehealth in terms of continuity of care is its resilience during public health emergencies. In situations such as pandemics or natural disasters, where physical distancing measures or travel restrictions may be imposed, PTAs can continue to provide essential rehabilitation services through virtual platforms. Patients can receive ongoing support and guidance without compromising their safety or the safety of healthcare professionals. This adaptability is crucial for individuals with chronic conditions or those in the midst of rehabilitation programs, as disruptions to care can have detrimental effects on their progress.

Real-time Monitoring

Telehealth facilitates continuous and dynamic monitoring of patients’ progress, allowing PTAs to make data-driven decisions in real time. By leveraging digital tools and wearable devices equipped with sensors, PTAs can receive live updates on patients’ physiological responses and adherence to prescribed exercises. This data not only informs immediate adjustments to treatment plans but also provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program over time.


From the perspective of healthcare facilities and providers, telehealth introduces the potential for significant overhead cost reductions. Physical therapy clinics may require fewer physical resources when delivering services remotely, such as a smaller office space and reduced need for certain equipment and utilities. The implementation of telehealth can optimize resource allocation, potentially lowering operational expenses for maintaining a physical clinic infrastructure. These cost savings can be redirected towards enhancing the quality of care, investing in advanced telehealth technologies, or expanding outreach programs to serve a broader patient population.

Enhanced Collaboration

Enhanced collaboration revolutionizes the dynamics of patient care by fostering seamless teamwork among healthcare professionals. This interconnected approach facilitates real-time communication, information sharing, and joint decision-making, promoting a comprehensive and patient-centered approach to rehabilitation. This collaborative synergy ensures that each member of the team brings their unique expertise to the table, resulting in more holistic and tailored interventions for patients. By breaking down geographical barriers and enabling instantaneous communication, enhanced collaboration through telehealth emerges as a cornerstone for optimizing patient outcomes and delivering high-quality, integrated healthcare services.

Technological Skill Development

Telehealth equips PTAs with the chance to cultivate proficiency in utilizing a diverse array of digital tools, ranging from virtual communication platforms to specialized healthcare software. This skill development not only enhances their ability to conduct remote consultations but also prepares them for the integration of innovative technologies in patient care. As healthcare increasingly incorporates digital solutions, PTAs who are adept in utilizing these tools are better positioned to contribute to efficient, patient-centric care delivery. By mastering technological advancements, PTAs can not only optimize their own workflows but also play a crucial role in shaping the future of healthcare by embracing the potential of digital tools to enhance the overall quality of rehabilitation services.

Patient Empowerment

Through telehealth, patients are empowered with the tools and knowledge to take a proactive role in their own care. Virtual platforms provide a medium for personalized interaction, enabling Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) to educate patients about their conditions, guide them through exercises, and offer real-time feedback. This direct engagement not only enhances patients’ understanding of their rehabilitation but also instills a sense of ownership over their health. By promoting self-management, telehealth encourages patients to adhere to treatment plans more consistently, contributing to improved outcomes. This empowerment paradigm aligns with a shift towards patient-centered care, placing individuals at the forefront of their healing journey and emphasizing the collaborative role of PTAs in supporting and guiding patients towards achieving their rehabilitation goals.

Older female medical professional in a telehealth appointment

Specialization Opportunities

Specialization opportunities in telehealth empower Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) to deepen their expertise and contribute uniquely to the evolving healthcare landscape. By specializing in telehealth, PTAs can develop advanced skills in remote patient assessment, virtual exercise prescription, and leveraging technology for effective communication within virtual care teams. This focused expertise enables PTAs to provide specialized and tailored care to patients in remote settings, optimizing rehabilitation outcomes. Moreover, it positions PTAs as integral members of the healthcare team, contributing to the ongoing development and refinement of telehealth practices. In embracing these opportunities for specialization, PTAs not only adapt to the changing healthcare landscape but also play a crucial role in shaping the future of patient-centered, technologically-driven rehabilitation services.

Telehealth Training and Skill Development for PTAs

Adapting the skill set of Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) to the virtual environment is crucial for ensuring the continued delivery of high-quality rehabilitation services. The shift to telehealth necessitates that PTAs develop proficiency in utilizing digital tools for remote patient assessments, virtual exercise prescription, and effective communication within virtual care teams. The ability to navigate telehealth platforms, guide patients through exercises remotely, and interpret data from wearable devices becomes integral to their role. Moreover, PTAs must cultivate a strong understanding of telehealth ethics, privacy considerations, and the nuances of delivering compassionate care in a virtual setting. Adapting their skill set to the virtual environment not only ensures that PTAs remain effective in their roles but also positions them as key contributors to the technological transformation in healthcare.

The need for ongoing training, education, and professional development is paramount to ensure that PTAs stay abreast of the latest advancements in telehealth. Continuous learning allows PTAs to refine their digital competencies, stay informed about evolving telehealth regulations, and adapt to emerging technologies. Professional development initiatives should encompass training on new virtual tools, telehealth best practices, and strategies for optimizing patient engagement in a remote setting. This commitment to ongoing education ensures that PTAs are well-equipped to navigate the dynamic landscape of telehealth, providing patients with the best possible care while maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and competence. In an era where technology is reshaping healthcare delivery, ongoing training becomes an essential investment in the proficiency and adaptability of PTAs, ultimately benefiting both healthcare providers and the patients they serve.

Challenges Faced by PTAs in Telehealth

Delivering physical therapy through virtual platforms presents several limitations and challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the effective provision of remote rehabilitation services. One notable challenge is the presence of technological barriers, which can impede both healthcare providers and patients. In regions with limited internet connectivity or access to digital devices, individuals may face difficulties participating in virtual sessions, hindering their ability to engage in remote physical therapy effectively. Additionally, disparities in technological literacy may pose challenges for certain patient demographics, requiring targeted efforts to bridge these gaps and ensure equitable access to telehealth services.

Another significant limitation of virtual physical therapy is the inherent difficulty in conducting hands-on assessments remotely. Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) traditionally rely on hands-on techniques to assess patients’ muscle strength, joint mobility, and overall physical condition. The virtual environment may limit the tactile feedback that PTAs can provide and restrict their ability to perform certain manual interventions. Overcoming this challenge requires innovative approaches, such as instructing patients or their caregivers to assist with hands-on assessments under the guidance of PTAs. Additionally, the integration of wearable devices and other remote monitoring technologies can supplement hands-on assessments by providing objective data on patients’ movements and progress.

Furthermore, building rapport with patients remotely poses a unique challenge in virtual physical therapy. Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance is crucial for effective rehabilitation, and the virtual medium may lack some of the non-verbal cues and personal interactions that are integral to relationship-building in traditional in-person settings. Initiatives to enhance patient engagement, such as interactive exercises, educational materials, and regular check-ins, can contribute to overcoming the challenges of building rapport in the virtual space.

Asian man communicating with a doctor in a telehealth appointment

The Future of Telehealth in Physical Therapy

The trajectory of telehealth in the field of physical therapy appears to be poised for continued growth and evolution. As technology continues to advance and becomes more seamlessly integrated into healthcare delivery, telehealth is likely to become even more ingrained in the fabric of rehabilitation services. Increased acceptance and familiarity with virtual platforms, coupled with ongoing improvements in internet connectivity, may contribute to a broader adoption of telehealth among both healthcare providers and patients. Additionally, as telehealth becomes more widespread, regulatory frameworks may adapt to better support and facilitate virtual care, overcoming barriers and promoting the long-term sustainability of telehealth in physical therapy. The ongoing global focus on healthcare accessibility and the demand for flexible, patient-centered solutions further underscore the potential trajectory of telehealth as a fundamental component of the future of physical therapy.

Emerging technologies and innovations are set to play a transformative role in shaping the future role of Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) in telehealth. Wearable devices, such as motion sensors and smart garments, have the potential to provide real-time, objective data on patients’ movements and adherence to exercise regimens. Integrating these technologies into telehealth practices can enhance the precision of remote assessments and allow PTAs to monitor patient progress more comprehensively. Moreover, advancements in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) present exciting possibilities for immersive virtual rehabilitation experiences. PTAs may leverage AR and VR to create engaging and interactive exercises, simulate real-world scenarios, and enhance patient motivation. As the role of PTAs in telehealth continues to evolve, embracing these technological innovations can elevate the quality of remote rehabilitation services and further demonstrate the adaptability and versatility of PTAs in leveraging technology for patient care.

Embark on a fulfilling career in healthcare by becoming a PTA today!

The impact of telehealth on physical therapy is transformative, offering expanded reach, increased accessibility, and enhanced collaboration. Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) play a crucial role in delivering remote care, conducting virtual sessions, and adapting to a technology-driven healthcare landscape. While telehealth provides opportunities for improved patient empowerment, cost-effectiveness, and specialization, it also presents challenges, including technological barriers, limitations in hands-on assessments, and the need for innovative strategies to build rapport with patients remotely. PTAs can address these challenges by developing proficiency in digital tools, embracing ongoing training, and leveraging emerging technologies to enhance the quality of virtual care.

Continuous research, adaptation, and collaboration are imperative to optimize the integration of telehealth in physical therapy. Ongoing studies can explore the effectiveness of virtual interventions, refine best practices, and identify innovative approaches for remote patient assessment and engagement. PTAs, as integral members of the healthcare team, must actively participate in professional development to stay abreast of technological advancements and evolving telehealth standards. Collaboration among PTAs, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals is essential to ensure a cohesive and patient-centered approach to the delivery of telehealth services. By fostering a culture of adaptation and collaboration, the field of physical therapy can harness the full potential of telehealth to provide efficient, accessible, and high-quality rehabilitation services.

Provo’s PTA program stands as a beacon for preparing future healthcare professionals for the evolving landscape of physical therapy, including the integration of telehealth. With a commitment to excellence in education, Provo’s Physical Therapist Assistant program equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a technology-driven healthcare environment.