When the world shifted in response to the COVID-19 epidemic so, too, did our methods for delivering health care
Michael L. is no stranger to surgery. Over the years, the 64-year-old Livingston resident has had a knee replacement, a repair of a torn Achilles tendon and a hip replacement. Each was followed with weeks of physical therapy (PT) through Atlantic Rehabilitation. But this time, the postoperative plan after his most recent surgery – a replacement of his left hip on March 12, 2020, just as the COVID-19 epidemic was becoming a stark reality in the Tri-State Area – was a little different.
Michael’s physical therapy began at the Atlantic Rehabilitation site in New Providence. But, as the pandemic progressed, there was need for a pivot. For the first time at Atlantic Rehabilitation, telehealth expanded to include PT.
Make It Work
Using Zoom, Atlantic Health System therapists were able to guide patients like Michael through their prescribed physical therapy. “We were willing to do anything we could do to help people, while preserving the safety of patients and staff and keeping up with guidelines from the American Physical Therapy Association, the Board of Health and hospital regulations,” says physical therapist Robyn Kelly. “Our biggest tool as physical therapists is that we use our hands to help people, so we had to improvise and ask, ‘What can we do to make this work?’”
That included such swaps as providing patients with TheraBands® resistance bands for stretching exercises at home, utilizing staircases in place of in-clinic stairs and substituting a mattress for a mat.
“None of us knew what the future would bring, but I knew that I still needed help,” says Michael, who opted for six weeks of virtual PT following his first few weeks of in-person sessions. “It was definitely valuable and worked out well for me.”
In fact, Michael competed in a pickleball tournament in the spring, and he continues to enjoy walks with his wife, Phyllis. “There really was no other choice,” he says. “I chose telehealth, and I’m glad I did.”