Exploring the potential of telehealth from a practitioners perspective.

Exploring the potential of telehealth from a practitioners perspective.
April 14, 2020 Tabitha Holland

In response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and important safety measures imposed by the UK and various other governments around the world, we’ve set about bringing you helpful tips, advice and new PPS and PPS Express integrations in a bid to help you to continue to treat your patients.

We’ve been in touch with so many clients over the past few weeks and have been inspired by the resilience we have seen in an industry which typically relies heavily on face to face and hands-on contact.

We’ve been speaking to the team at Pearse Street Physio in Dublin to get a real insight into how they have adapted to the new normal and we wanted to share their story with you to explore the potential of telehealth from a practitioner’s perspective.

 

 

Pearse Street Physiotherapy Clinic, Dublin.

My name is Tadhg O’Mahony and I am a Chartered Physiotherapist at Pearse Street Physiotherapy Clinic, which is in Dublin city centre. I joined the clinic, headed by Aidan Woods, in 2012 and since then we have been steadily working on modernising our practice; we moved to online exercise prescription software in 2012 and converted to Electronic Medical Records in 2013. Moving to Private Practice Software (PPS) for this allowed us to consolidate all of our notes, exercise prescriptions, schedules, accounts, communication records and document storage in one place. Since then we have refined and audited our systems on a regular basis in an effort to maintain a consistent approach to assessment and treatment among all of our physios (of which we employ 6, plus a full-time Pilates instructor and 3 admin staff). We have also worked hard on our online presence, with a modern and regularly updated website managed in-house, online booking systems and a focus on maintaining excellent clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction to keep our Google and Facebook reviews consistently 5 stars, helping us feature prominently on relevant Google searches.

 

Online treatment

E-health or video consultations was an idea we had discussed a number of times in recent years as it became a more popular option for some elements of healthcare, particularly for GP visits among our largely young and tech-savvy client base. However, with our physical practice keeping us very busy it remained on the back burner.

Obviously that all changed very suddenly when, in early March, the Irish Government announced a series of social/physical distancing measures in order to stem the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic. We made the decision quickly that in the interests of public health we should stop physical consultations, and put all of our efforts into developing our ability to deliver the high standards our clients expect without seeing them face to face.

 

Adapting to social distancing and lockdown measures

Our first step was to try and maintain links with our current clients: everyone in ongoing care was contacted in the first week of the restrictions and we offered free phone consultations, which we quickly developed to include video. We tried several apps for this before settling on one that suited us. We prioritised a good quality connection and a relatively simple set up that most of our clients could manage without much difficulty.

During this first week we ironed out some technical difficulties, and as therapists, we learned to adapt our assessment techniques, treatment prescription and advice to a phone or video consultation: guiding patients on how to set up devices so we can communicate clearly and assess ROM and movement quality, instructing them on self palpation or self-massage and checking their exercise technique. As the consultations were free of charge our clients were understanding of technical issues and appreciative of our efforts to stay in touch and keep up their treatment. We also started streaming our Pilates classes online, again free of charge and with an open invitation, to try and keep people moving, feeling physically and mentally well and maintaining contact with our client base.

Of course, it was not business as usual: many of our clients see physical contact and hands-on therapy techniques as an inherent part of what physiotherapy is, so we did have many people cancel scheduled appointments, or postpone them indefinitely until the clinic reopens. Many people have also been unexpectedly plunged into financial insecurity, with previously stable and secure incomes suddenly uncertain or drastically reduced, so continuing private physiotherapy treatment became more difficult. 

Having discussed it with our whole team we agreed that at this time of international crisis we wanted to play our part in helping people through it. We agreed that we would offer a Pay What You Can Afford service, hoping that those whose income has not been impacted, and those whose health insurance covers a large proportion of their costs, could continue to pay for our services and expertise as usual. This allows us to see those who cannot afford to pay the usual fees at the moment, and therefore stay engaged with our current clients as well as creating an opportunity for others who need some help to stay physically well during this period.

 

Client response and ongoing treatment

A few weeks into running our clinic entirely as an e-health service we are finding that our team of physios, Pilates instructor and management/office staff have adapted brilliantly to the massive changes to how they do their work. All are now working from home, but the fact that we could continue to work within our pre-existing systems, with a little tweaking, has made things easier. We have found our clients are really engaging with the video consultation format, and we have received lots of really positive feedback on the effectiveness of both physiotherapy and Pilates sessions delivered remotely.

We have also identified some positives in making e-health available: suddenly there is no geographical limit for clients to consult with us. Personally I have reconnected with a number of clients who moved away from our area in recent years so were unable to attend us physically. We have also seen some new patients from isolated parts of Ireland where there is very limited access to physiotherapy services.

 

Positive outcomes

In the coming weeks we hope to raise awareness of our services, and make access available to those who need it. We are in contact with previous clients, with GPs and consultants, and with businesses and sports clubs nearby and further afield to offer our help to their networks. We also plan to reach out to those more vulnerable people who are cocooning at the moment, to offer support and help to this group at a very anxious and difficult time

I have personally found that it has been a really positive experience to engage and connect with people at this truly unprecedented time. The whole world has utterly changed in the space of a few weeks and mentally, emotionally and physically people are experiencing difficulty at the moment. To be able to be an external positive influence for the people I have seen and spoken to in the last few weeks has been uplifting personally and professionally. 

All of our communities are trying to work together to weather this storm, from the small scale in families and neighbourhoods, to large-scale national and international efforts. Looking after each other has never been so important, and so needed, and we are really pleased to have found such an effective way to do our part to help people maintain or improve their physical health right now, and hopefully their mental and emotional health too.  We are optimistic about what the future holds and believe that together, we will get through this.

Get the full story as a vlog here.

To find out more, you can connect with Pearse Street Physiotherapy Clinic and follow their journey here:

www.pearsestreetphysio.com

Facebook: Pearse Street Physiotherapy Clinic

Twitter: @PearseStPhysio

Instagram: @pearsestreetphysioclinic

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