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Purpose: Telehealth has an emerging footprint on entry-level physical therapy programs. Students’ readiness for clinical reasoning with virtual versus traditional face-to-face treatment remains unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students’ preparedness for clinical experiences with and without telehealth.
Methods: A descriptive and exploratory cross-sectional survey was employed, with a voluntary convenience sample of 211 second- and third-year university DPT students during Fall 2020 clinical experiences. Descriptive and inferential statistics evaluated differences in DPT students’ (1) Physical Therapist Self-Efficacy (PTSE) scale scores, (2) confidence with treating initial and subsequent same-patient visits, and (3) final Clinical Performance Instrument (CPI) clinical reasoning and summative scores during clinical experiences with and without telehealth.
Results: Telehealth availability was 40.3%, with 16.6% of DPT students reporting participation. Most students reported being comfortable (39.3%) or neutral (32.2%) using telehealth. DPT students’ confidence level using telehealth to treat was 74% on initial and 97% on subsequent same-patient visits. Mean PTSE scores were significantly lower during clinical experiences with telehealth (13.1) compared to traditional experiences (15.1) (P <.001) and for integrated (second-year) (14.1) compared to terminal (third-year) clinical experiences (15.5) (P <.001). For traditional experiences, weak positive associations were demonstrated between PTSE and CPI scores. There were no significant differences for CPI scores between telehealth and traditional experiences.
Conclusion: While entry-level DPT programs continue to establish best practice for telehealth education, current trends in academic curriculum seem to prepare students’ clinical reasoning readiness for clinical experiences. The PTSE could be used to identify outlier students requiring additional mentoring during traditional and telehealth clinical experiences.
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