What does “virtual first” mean and why do we have to do it?

As one of the UK’s leading London physiotherapists, I regularly write about injuries, treatment and assessment techniques.

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I’ve been receiving questions about why I currently have to provide a “virtual” physiotherapy session before I’m allowed to see patients face-to-face in clinic, and decided that here would be a good place to explain. We are not “back to normal” yet!

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy rules are currently that physiotherapists have to think “virtual first” when providing treatment. This has been the case since the end of March 2020. We were not allowed to see patients face-to-face at all until 10 July, so we could only do virtual sessions; now we can see patients face-to-face, but only in situations where virtual physiotherapy has been tried, and where both the patient and the therapist agree that the benefits of hands-on treatment outweigh the risks of coronavirus transmission associated with a face-to-face session.

This means that, until you’ve had a virtual session with me which has included this discussion, you can’t book a clinic visit. If I were to treat you in clinic without having had a documented virtual session, then I would be acting outside of the scope of my insurance, and I’m not prepared to jeopardise myself like that.

There are two parts to a virtual session that may lead to a face-to-face session.

Coronavirus risk

The first part is going through questions to establish the level of coronavirus risk that would be associated with a face-to-face session – for example, asking you about whether you have any symptoms or whether you’ve been in contact with anyone who is symptomatic. That doesn’t need to be done by me – I have trained my admin team to ask those questions and they will do so on the phone and let me know the answers.

Clinical assessment

However, before I see you I also have to do a clinical assessment, to try to work out why you are experiencing your symptoms and whether it is appropriate to try to treat these virtually or whether the benefits of face-to-face treatment outweigh the risks. This isn’t something I can delegate, and it’s not something I can responsibly do in a quick phonecall – this takes an actual online appointment. Therefore, if you call to book a clinic visit, my team will check the system to ensure that you have had an online session first; and if they have any concerns, they will check with me before booking a face-to-face session.

This process is definitely more convoluted and more time-consuming than it was before COVID-19, but it is the way things have to happen at the moment. Hopefully it will change back in the future, but in the meantime at least we are able to reopen! Please call my team on 0207 175 0150 to book your sessions as usual: virtual if we’ve not already done that, and face-to-face if you and I have agreed that this is appropriate.

I also add a plea: please be patient with me and my team as we navigate a return to clinic. We are doing our best to meet all our COVID obligations and although I think we’ve got everything covered from an administrative perspective, all these things are new and it’s possible that you may pose a problem we haven’t pre-empted! We will work it out…!

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The clinic is open!

(online treatment still available)

The Prime Minister’s announcement on 1 Nov was clear that medical services should continue, and that people who need medical appointments should continue to attend them. Therefore the clinic will remain open, with everything wipe-clean and COVID-safe.

"Virtual first" continues...

However, the current government advice is that I have to see patients online before I can see you in clinic, and that I should only see you face to face (or mask to mask!) if we both agree that the benefits of hands-on treatment outweigh the risks of coronavirus transmission.  If hands-on treatment is not the most appropriate option for you, then I will continue to offer online treatment for the foreseeable future.

So please call my team on 0207 175 0150 and book your physio appointment as usual – or to read more about the COVID-safe measures we’re taking, please click the button to continue reading.