Crafting Engaging Telehealth PT Sessions

By Rachel Hopkins

As the world continues to battle the ongoing global health crisis and focus on mitigating its public health effects, millions of health care facilities and hospitals have been left with no choice but to advise their recovering patients to continue various exercises from the comforts of their home.

However, research has shown that most patients do not comply with home exercise programs. Fortunately, through the use of technology, at-home patients are now able to enroll in virtual physical therapy groups or individual classes. Aside from providing them with a supportive and motivating support group, classes led and supervised by physical therapists help patients maintain strength gains1 and continue to progress.

Online exercise classes are nothing new. Following the implementation of various social distancing protocols and the closure of gyms, online exercise classes rose in popularity. In fact, some gyms and fitness studios operators expect only 25% to 30%2 of their customers to come back to in-person classes, with the rest working out via online videos and exercise classes.

In fact, online classes are so effective in teaching not just the basics of fitness, but more complex ideas, that they’ve proven to be great mediums for fitness professionals as well. Through online classes, aspiring physical therapists and fitness professionals are able to learn about their fields while engaged in other professions. Professor Victor Kizer from Maryville University demonstrates the success of online education as he earned his exercise science degree online while serving in the military. These days, online education can provide you with direct, supervised field experience in areas like fitness, wellness, sports training, exercise physiology, and motor control that you need to find success in the field. Taking inspiration from online exercise classes and videos that are becoming a trend as of late, here are some tips on how to craft an engaging telehealth physical therapy session:

Design Sessions for Clients’ Specific Needs

Physical therapy sessions are different online and offline. While virtual classes have enabled many to continue on with their programs, they have made it a bit more challenging for physical therapists to figure out the struggles patients experience throughout the session. After all, with virtual classes, physical therapists are unable to physically adjust the patients’ position and assist them through each exercise. In order to address this difficulty, the best thing physical therapists can do is to review the individual needs of each client. By doing this, it will help you come up with exercises that are not only easier for the patients to follow but are also addressing the areas that they must strengthen and improve further.

Minimize Any On And Off-Screen Distractions

Every patient is unique. While some would be fine with you conducting sessions while someone is in the background, others might not be. To provide patients with more assurance and a sense of privacy, try to conduct all of your sessions somewhere quiet and private. It would also be a good idea to minimize on and off-screen distractions on your end. Consider putting up a virtual backdrop or recording with a blank wall behind you to help keep patients focused on what you are saying. Close browser tabs and put your computer on “do not disturb” mode during sessions so you won’t be distracted by email notifications and the like.

Don’t Forget Image and Sound Quality

During virtual sessions, your patients can only rely on two things: the video they are seeing on the screen and the instructions they are hearing from their speakers or earphones. That being said, ensuring that your image and sound is of the highest quality should be of the utmost importance. If your laptop or personal computer is not equipped with a high-resolution camera, then invest in one. If your earphones are no longer able to transmit the words you say loud and clear, invest in new ones too. Aside from improving your image and sound quality, it’s a good idea to look at the camera directly and use exaggerated gestures to engage patients and build a rapport and connection with them. Make a habit to stop from time to time during the session to ensure they understand the instructions and give them time to ask any questions.

Implementing these three tips will help build a successful online program to ensure your patients have access to the care they deserve, no matter the circumstance.


1Hazan P. Innovation in Wellness and Prevention. Impact. 2016;10.

2Handley L. Lockdowns have changed the fitness industry forever — here’s what to expect of post-pandemic workouts. CNBC website. Published April 30, 2020.

Rachel Hopkins is a freelance writer based in London, UK.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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