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There is no doubt that the last couple of months have been challenging for all of us. We have all been impacted to varying degrees by social distancing, workplace changes, home schooling and travel restrictions that have accompanied the COVID19 pandemic. It has forced change in many industries with how services are delivered.
In the health sector we have seen a necessary shift from face-to-face to online services where possible; Telehealth consultations have been a major part of this change. The truth is, Telehealth has been used widely throughout rural areas for years and there had been an increasing push due to the efficiencies of the system to introduce it into standard health practice prior to the outbreak of coronavirus. The pandemic has resulted in fast-tracking of policy and the over-coming of barriers that previously existed. Importantly, private health insurers are now paying rebates on Telehealth sessions.
Yet, as physiotherapists we have seen a reluctance from our patients to use the service. The question is why?
From my perspective, Telehealth has been a valuable asset throughout this period and will continue to be, going forward. Contrary to popular belief, the main benefits from our physiotherapy consultations come from our thorough assessment, diagnosis, education and planning. The ‘hands-on’ component of treatment, in many cases, is not the vital part of the treatment.
Multiple research papers have proven that Telehealth appointments, whereby physiotherapists assess, educate and use exercise programs to facilitate recovery, are as effective as face-to-face sessions. A telehealth session is more than just a FaceTime chat. Beyond talking, our Telehealth software enables us to share your imaging (X-rays and MRI), assess the way you are moving, and prescribe and teach exercises to you either through the live video or by sharing our extensive exercise library with you during the session. You leave with a plan and understand the steps to your recovery. Any of the manual work – such as massage, mobilisation and stretching can usually be performed with a spikey ball, roller or exercise; while I know this is not the same as being treated by your trusted therapist in person, it is still generally very effective.
As you would know, Physiosports has always placed an emphasis on education and exercise as the cornerstone of our treatment plans. Manual treatment is an adjunct that can help to reduce pain to get you on the path to recovery. In this way, transitioning to Telehealth appointments was easier for our team as it fits with our fundamental beliefs of patient driven recovery through exercise.
Over the last few weeks, I have completed Telehealth sessions with patients in isolation due to illness, parents playing teacher home schooling, patients stranded interstate and overseas, as well as those who just didn’t feel comfortable with face-to-face contact. Both parties have found the sessions invaluable and all have improved despite the lack of physical treatment. Truth be told, I am a people person and much prefer seeing my patients face-to-face but the success of these sessions has driven home to me that we can manage patients from afar without losing our effectiveness. With Telehealth the burden of geography is removed and we can consult with anyone, anywhere in the world at anytime, broadening our reach to people who would not normally be able to access our expertise, but also helping you to continue treatment plans even when you are travelling for work or holidays.
There is no doubt that Telehealth sessions will change the way we practice going forward and will remain part of our health landscape. While this period of time has been challenging, hopefully this one positive to emerge will improve accessibility and quality of care for everyone.
Written by Steven Whytcross, Director & Specialist Sports Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapy 2015) at Physiosports Brighton.