Thank you for the many communications and questions that you have posed over this past week as we have all been adjusting to the tremendous impact that COVID-19 is having on both our personal and professional lives. I appreciate that we are all looking for answers to guide our actions as professionals. While there are many answers that we do have, there is much that we do not know at this time. That is not comfortable for any of us, myself included.
Last week, we shared the Governor’s March 24 Stay-at-Home Executive Order. I am aware that many of you had already ramped down or eliminated outpatient physical therapy services. I have fielded numerous questions about Telehealth, which seems a very logical way to practice social distancing, while still providing care to patients. As I shared in my prior Messages from the President, the Indiana Physical Therapy Practice Act is silent on the use of Telehealth; there is no prohibition in the Practice Act to the use of Telehealth. It is advised, at this time, that anyone wishing to use Telehealth, should consult individual legal counsel. Like many of you, I was not satisfied that there was no option to change this. The challenge we face asking for an emergency legislative bill to allow us to provide Telehealth, is that the Indiana General Assembly convened for 2020 the week of March 9. Last week, we became aware of several states including, but not limited to, Arizona and Tennessee, who through their Governor’s Executive Order, permitted therapists to provide Telehealth. This occurred where Telehealth was not part of a state’s PT Practice Acts or Rules.
On Thursday, a letter was sent to the Indiana Governor’s office strongly recommending that an Executive Order be considered permitting physical therapists to provide Telehealth. On Friday, additional communications to the Governor’s Office occurred via message, telephone and personal requests. At this time, the Indiana Governor has been unresponsive to all communications. It is time that the Governor hears from members. In the next few hours, you will receive an e-mail from the APTA Legislative Action Center with simple directions on how you can contact your State Senator, Representative and the Governor with a form letter requesting that Telehealth services be approved for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in Indiana as well as mandating that private payers and Medicaid reimburse for Telehealth provided by PTs and PTAs. If you have a coworker who is not a member of APTA Indiana, he or she can use this letter and can identify their State Senator and Representative HERE. Please share this information with your non-member colleagues. We are working with the leadership from the Indiana Occupational Therapy Association on this messaging as they will also be appealing to their membership to contact their Senators, Representatives and the Governor.
In all communications with the Governor and the Indiana Physical Therapy Board, we have consistently asked for Telehealth. Only physicians, advanced nurse practitioners, physician assistants and optometrists can provide telemedicine. Please be sure to use the term Telehealth in all of your communications.
We are heading toward being the last state in the United States who cannot, at this time of National Emergency, help with this crisis by virtue of being able to provide healthcare in a safe manner that reduces the burden on hospitals. Our inability to provide Telehealth is simply unacceptable. If you agree, please take a few minutes to make your voice heard.
Late last week, APTA Indiana had an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee to consider all that members in the state are facing. I have heard from many of you who have had hours reduced or have been placed on furlough without pay. This is an added stress to many families in an already stressful period of time as we consider our own health and the well-being of our loved ones. We have been in communication with APTA on ways to extend the grace period for membership renewal to allow continued access to all the resources provided. In addition, I have been in communication with the Indiana Physical Therapy Board regarding the June 30 licensure renewal deadline. The Indiana Physical Therapy Board is considering ways to alleviate this burden. In addition, we are updating all the resources on the COVID-19 landing page on the APTA Indiana website with helpful resources. We will have extensive resources available if the Governor makes the decision to allow us to provide Telehealth.
At this time, we need to have a strong, united voice for Telehealth. I am optimistic that we can move the needle on this. When I know more, I will be sure to share with you all.
Emily Slaven, PT, PhD, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy
President, APTA Indiana