What do all the terms mean?
Telehealth, telephysio, telerehab, online physio, virtual physio... What do all of these terms mean?
First off, we apologize for this confusion. For the most part, they are all the same. Unfortunately, fragmented terms have been created for our service in recent years.
The prefix “tele” literally means “at” or “from a distance”. Telehealth is an umbrella term and "used to describe the use of electronic communication technologies to support clinical healthcare". This includes doctors, occupational therapists, dieticians, etc.
Telerehabilitation includes Physiotherapists as well as all other rehabilitation services such as Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists. Therefore, Telephysio is specific to Physiotherapy. Extended health benefit insurers, such as Pacific Blue Cross, have requested the term telerehabilitation be used mainly.
Recently, the terms online physio and virtual physio have become popular. These terms are more layman and seem to be better to understand the type of service and how it will be conducted. Although, it should be noted that not all telephysio needs to occur online. The use of the phone for follow-up appointments is an example. As well, virtual physio would make it seem like the service is in a virtual world. This is a possibility but not yet common (see image below).
I understand why some move away from "tele" as it creates images of the telephone and not technology, or health care at a distance as the prefix is defined. FaceTime Physio or Skype Physio can also be seen marketed and these single words give a great understanding of what telephysio is.
In a perfect world:
1) All medical services using technology to deliver care is telehealth.
2) Telerehab includes telephysio.
3) Virtual physio (using a virtual reality headset - seen above) is a sub-discipline of telephysio
1) You will see the terms telephysio, telerehab, online physio, virtual physio and even Skype physio or FaceTime physio used interchangeably.
Next, is it telephysio or tele-physio? Telerehab or tele-rehab? Virtual physio or virtual physiotherapy? I will let someone else blog about that. 😜
Aaron Dobie, Registered Physiotherapist
Richmond T, Peterson C, Cason J, et al. American telemedicine association’s principles for delivering telerehabilitation services. International Journal of Telerehabilitation. 2017;9(2):63-68.