92nd MDG introduces Telehealth for the first time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing

Team Fairchild, being the first base in the military, introduced a way to provide virtual physical therapy to Airmen while also preventing the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 and improving mission readiness March 24, 2020.


The therapy is now demonstrated by 92nd Medical Group doctors and physical therapists through video teleconferencing with the Airmen, allowing them to stay physically fit and socially separated.


“Telehealth uses video cameras and monitors to connect the patient to their physical therapist in a different location instead of in-person,” said Lt. Col. John Tonarelli, 92nd MDG physical therapy flight commander. “The patient can see, hear and talk with the Physical Therapist. It is comparable to Skype, FaceTime or any other video teleconference.” 


Video teleconferencing allows patients to show physical therapists where their pain is, and it allows the physical therapists to make corrections to their regimen if needed.


“We watch the patient perform specific movements and determine if that movement is functional and the patient lets us know if it is painful. This helps us get a better understanding of why they are hurting,” Tonarelli said. “We also demonstrate exercises to the patient and have them follow along to assure they understand. The 92nd MDG uses a platform that is [Department of Defense] approved and [compliant with privacy laws] and our physical therapists comply with all codes of ethics.”


Although intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, PT Telehealth is helpful and can be used to ensure that Airmen are maintaining their mission readiness despite their location.


“Telehealth physical therapy can have huge implications [down range] by helping troops or special forces at Forward Operating Bases that don’t have access to PT,” Tonarelli said. “If the service member has a secure satellite connection, physical therapists could provide care remotely.”


Due to limited services and resources, the Telehealth PT is only open to active duty military members. Like physical therapy, all PT Telehealth appointments are referred to patients’ primary care managers and scheduled by their physical therapists.