Background Telehealth use is increasing due to its ability to overcome service access barriers and provide continued care when disease transmission is of concern. However, little is known of the validity, reliability and utility of performing physiotherapy assessments using synchronous forms of telehealth across all physiotherapy practice areas. The aim of this systematic review was to determine the current clinometric value of performing physiotherapy assessments using synchronous forms of telehealth across all areas of physiotherapy practice.
Methods A comprehensive search of databases (PubMed/MEDLINE, The Cochrane Library, Embase and EBSCO) was undertaken to identify studies investigating the clinometric value of performing physiotherapy assessments using synchronous forms of telehealth across all physiotherapy practice areas. Following selection, a quality appraisal was conducted using the Brink and Louw or Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Evidence regarding validity, reliability and utility of synchronous telehealth physiotherapy assessments was extracted and synthesised using a critical narrative approach.
Results Thirty-nine studies conducted in a variety of simulated (n=15) or real-world telehealth environments (n=24), were included. The quality of the validity, reliability and utility studies varied. Assessments including range of movement, muscle strength, endurance, pain, special orthopaedic tests (shoulder/elbow), Berg Balance Scale, timed up and go, timed stance test, six-minute walk test, steps in 360-degree turn, Movement Assessment Battery for Children (2nd Edition), step test, ABILHAND assessment, active straight leg raise, and circumferential measures of the upper limb were reported as valid/reliable in limited populations and settings (many with small sample sizes). Participants appeared to embrace telehealth technology use, with most studies reporting high levels of participant satisfaction. If given a choice, many reported a preference for in-person physiotherapy assessments. Some inconsistencies in visual/auditory quality and challenges with verbal/non-verbal communication methods were reported. Telehealth was considered relatively cost-effective once services were established.
Conclusions Performing physiotherapy assessments using synchronous forms of telehealth appears valid and reliable for specific assessment types in limited populations. Further research is needed in all areas of physiotherapy practice, to strengthen the evidence surrounding its clinometric value. Clinicians contemplating using this assessment mode should consider the client/family preferences, assessment requirements, cultural needs, environment, cost considerations, access and confidence using technology.