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When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia at the beginning of 2020, society collectively discovered what it meant to have its entire way of life turned upside down.

Never before had we been forced to rethink the way we undertook everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, seeing friends and family, even managing our own health.

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While we can survive without some things for a few months, possibly a year or more, healthcare is not one of them. Which is why many health professionals have had to reinvent the way they deliver care.

Even essential services, such as physiotherapy, required radical change, in order to prioritise safety for both patients, and practitioners.

“Physiotherapy practices are deemed essential services, and so technically we would have been able to continue business as usual, despite the restrictions,” says Kathryn Anderson, owner of Viva Physiotherapy.

“However, having remote physio already established meant that I was able to make a decision based on health outcomes, rather than business ones, to close our physical doors.

“I was able to mobilise quickly to provide service for our clients, and provide surety for my staff that they would be able to keep their jobs despite the crisis.”

Online or remote physio means consulting with your physiotherapist via telehealth.

The primary benefit being that you can see your physio from any location, which is critical during COVID times, but also has a significant scope of use outside of COVID.

“Our clients love being able to see us via telehealth after giving birth, after surgery or even just if work is really busy and they want to cut down travel time,” says Ms Anderson.

“We've even seen clients who injured themselves on holiday and needed advice to manage their injury from the physio who normally treated them -- from thousands of kilometres away.

Ms Anderson says she recognised long ago that modern lifestyles were changing, prompting a shift in Viva’s delivery model to meet that demand, well before COVID hit.

“My goal was to break down the barriers of receiving good quality physiotherapy, by removing the need to be physically be in the same place.

“To use online consultations, or whatever technology and tools we needed, to allow this to happen in a timely way as the person’s injury progresses.

“We see the physio model as ripe for disruption and want to help move it forward.”

Michael Dermansky, senior physiotherapist and managing director of MD Health, didn’t consider online consultations until the pandemic hit, and while he admits to at first considering it a band aid solution, he now believes remote physio is here to stay.

“Some clients prefer to be seen at their home and workplace, rather than to drive into clinic,” he says. 

“In addition, when patient go on holiday or are unwell, they can easily convert their regular session to a telehealth session and still not miss out. 

“During the easing of restrictions, we were still regularly seeing 60-70 patients via telehealth each week, who preferred to be seen online than in-clinic.

In general, Mr Dermansky says online consultations involve the same elements that any physiotherapy consultation involves – from taking the patient’s history to examination. 

“The examination is the difficult part, because we have to develop tests that can only be done from a distance/online. 

“We can do about 80 per cent of the tests we usually require online, but some of the tests unfortunately can only be done in person.  Treatment is the same. 

“We can easily demonstrate the exercises online and monitor patients to make sure their technique is right.  With manual treatment it is a bit harder, but possible. 

“In general, treatment is much easier with follow-up sessions, where we have the plan and just need the patient to continue with the treatment.”

Mr Dermansky says diagnosis is more difficult online - possible with injuries such as back pain, but challenging with ligament injuries, which may require a physical examination.

Overall, Mr Dermansky says his clinic obtains around 80 per cent of the results they would expect with in-clinic sessions. 

“If the condition is similar to what we have assessed, the treatment implementation is pretty straight forward. 

“If there is a change and we really need to thoroughly assess the area to revise the plan, we may ask the patient to come in for a once off assessment in-clinic with appropriate protective measures in plan, then we can go back to telehealth sessions.”

While the benefits of physio telehealth during lockdown periods are obvious, there are myriad advantages to both practitioners and patients, to providing online consultations as a staple service.

“Patients who have too far to travel, can just convert their session to telehealth and we can continue to provide the service. 

“In addition, if someone is unwell, we can still see them by converting their session to telehealth – that way, they can continue their treatment without infecting the staff and other patients. 

“Finally, we have clients who work odd hours and find it difficult to find the time to come in, therefore we can see them via telehealth at their home or work without the disruption.”

Ms Anderson agrees, and says her client base has now extended beyond the clinic’s location of Melbourne CBD, to regional areas, even overseas.

“In fact, we had our first international client from Singapore last week.”

With many of the lifestyle changes made during the coronavirus pandemic expected to become the new normal, it seems likely that online physiotherapy is here to stay.

“We identified online physiotherapy as an important direction prior to COVID, and the positive impact it’s had on people’s journey to curing injury has cemented its important role.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.