Telehealth is emerging as an important adjunct to traditional face-to-face consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic with nearly all physiotherapists now offering phone or online consultations to provide ongoing patient support.
Melbourne CBD Physio has long offered Telehealth services, but it was only in March of 2020 that it gained a significant role in patient care. As with any emerging service, there were some teething issues.
As Victoria has finished a third lockdown period, we’ve reflected on what we’ve learned in developing our Telehealth services to continue delivering optimal patient outcomes.
1. Assessment in the comfort of your home
At the onset of the pandemic, the rapid use of Telehealth opened up the eyes of many patients to the possibilities through virtual care. Most notably, patients quickly realised that they can be assessed and managed in the comfort of their own home. This was highly valuable as patients no longer needed to get in their car, or jump on public transport to visit us, and were able to get appropriate education and revision of exercises in an efficient and cost effective manner.
2. Patients want choice
Physiotherapy done right is patient-centred. With such a variety of allied health services, coupled with the growth of the health and wellbeing industry, patients are now much more confident in calling the shots and determining how they want care delivered. Telehealth is a way we can respond to this.
With Telehealth, we are giving another option for care. We can reach our patients and offer our advice in whatever modality and technology they feel is most appropriate for their health. We’ve learnt that Telehealth can meet the expectations and needs of some patients in a far more convenient means.
3. Be adaptable and ready to demonstrate
So many of our patients completing rehabilitation were all of a sudden thrust into their own home and unaware how to continue their rehab. No longer were we able to provide tactile feedback and correction of exercises, or hands on treatment face-to-face.
We found the best approach was to set up our video screen in our gym, and physically demonstrate the exercises or techniques to our patients. To supplement this, we found recording exercises and providing these to patients following their appointment, or revising videos sent to us by patients was most helpful.
4. Telehealth is not suitable for everyone- and that’s ok!
We recognise that Telehealth has its place, but in our opinion it doesn’t replace advanced clinical reasoning and individually tailored treatment face-to-face. We struggle to support the contention that Telehealth is great for everyone, when in reality it is incredibly difficult, and somewhat misleading for us to provide an accurate diagnosis due to lack of clinical testing and hands on assessment via virtual methods. Hence, we believe Telehealth should only be used for ongoing management of prescribed exercises and education of injuries, leaving initial consultation and hands on treatment for face-to-face consults.
5. Patients and clinicians need to be somewhat tech savvy
Everyone was quickly forced to become an expert in Zoom, Google Meetings, Microsoft Teams and Skype with the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, for those unfamiliar with these technologies, Telehealth became a difficult concept to understand. Indeed, from our experience many patients struggled connecting, had difficulty with their video and audio connection and this in turn made it frustrating to provide a sound assessment and treatment. Therefore, we found it’s imperative to provide patients with a detailed instruction list on how to connect and what to expect from a Telehealth consultation, and ensure that our own technology was held to be reliable.