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Changing the landscape of virtual care: Introducing physiotherapy

Virtual care · Jan 14, 2021

Q&A with Matt Sheldon, Registered Physiotherapist

Virtual physiotherapy* has been made available to TELUS Health Virtual Care users in November 2020.  We asked Matt Sheldon, a Registered Physiotherapist who offers this service, some questions about providing physiotherapy virtually.

Q: How effective would you consider virtual treatment to be compared to in-person treatment?

A: Research has shown1 that virtual physiotherapy sessions are as effective as in-person sessions in providing accurate diagnoses and effectively treating most conditions seen in a physiotherapy clinic. There are, however, sub-groups of people who improve with virtual appointments, but still do better with in-person treatments or a hybrid approach of both. During an initial virtual assessment, a physiotherapist can usually determine which approach will work best based on the condition and the patient, and will make a recommendation accordingly.

Q: What can and can’t be done during a virtual physiotherapy session?

A: Virtual physiotherapy sessions can successfully assess, diagnose, and create a treatment plan for most issues and injuries that one would normally seek physiotherapy for. Education and exercise therapy are the foundations of any physiotherapy program and are ideally administered during a virtual session. Through education, we help the patient understand the source of their pain and how to manage it (including positions and activities to avoid or modify). We also prescribe different exercises to improve mobility, build strength and provide pain relief. Virtual physiotherapy treatment relies on techniques that the patient can do themselves to improve or manage their condition, which typically promotes excellent adherence to the treatment plan. Of course, during a virtual session, we are unable to perform manual therapy techniques such as massage and manipulation, or to use certain modalities like laser therapy.

Q: What tends to surprise people most about doing physiotherapy virtually?

A: People are often very surprised by the precise accuracy of diagnosis that can be done virtually. Patients often assume that we feel the diagnosis with our hands, but it is more often based on the client’s symptom history and seeing them move. Secondly, patients are often surprised by how well their symptoms improve through exercise and simple changes to their daily activities.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to providing care virtually?

A: The biggest barrier to providing care virtually is expectations — both the clinician’s and the patient’s. Physiotherapy is often thought of as being a "physical" and “hands-on" treatment, and virtual physiotherapy looks and feels a bit different. But education and exercise are a physiotherapist’s most useful treatment tools, and they can both be used with great success virtually. As virtual physiotherapy becomes more common, clinicians are becoming more skilled at assessing patients and prescribing exercise therapy over video. Likewise, clients are becoming more aware that virtual physiotherapy is highly effective, either from their own experience or from that of others.

Q: How do you see this industry evolving over the next 5 years?

A: I believe that virtual physiotherapy will continue to be a major part of our practice. As clinicians we will continue to improve our virtual assessment and treatment skills, and our ability to screen for the people who will likely do very well with virtual care, and those who will benefit from a hybrid approach. Our duty is to provide the best care possible; for some patients, virtual care is a perfect fit, but one size does not fit all. Virtual physiotherapy won't replace in-person treatments completely, but it will become an important part of our care.

Want to learn more?

Watch Matt Sheldon on a panel for Talent Canada: Exploring new workplace health-care opportunities. The panel of experts discuss healthcare disciplines going virtual, the efficacy of these treatments and how they’ve evolved since March 2020. They share tips on how and why senior workplace leaders should be adjusting their employee programs to keep pace.

Click here to watch the panel discussion. Please note that this presentation is only available in English.

*Virtual physiotherapy is currently only available in Ontario. If you live outside of Ontario and are interested in this service, please let us know.


1 Investigating the effectiveness of virtual physiotherapy, Ascenti, June 6, 2020 (Source only available in English)

TELUS Health Virtual Care supports your physical and mental health by giving you access to 24/7 on-demand healthcare. Available via smartphone or computer, in French and English, it instantly connects you or your family members to Canadian healthcare providers through encrypted text and video chat. Access care when you need medical advice, referrals to specialists, requests for new prescriptions or refills, wellness services and access to registered mental health specialists.