Telemedicine doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That’s one lesson the Sydney Children’s Hospital learned from its implementation of a telehealth program for physical therapy, which encompasses both virtual visits and in-person visits.
“We are visiting kids in their homes and doing physical therapy treatments in their homes, but we’re also taking their services out of hospital by visiting them via video calls,” Cloe Benz, a senior physiotherapist at Sydney Children’s, told MobiHealthNews. “So we have a complementary type surface. All the patients who live within driving area of our hospital, we drive to their house and see them at their house. But we also do a session every day … via video calls, which has allowed families to have less of a burden on them, making sure that kids get their treatment done [and clinicians] are able to monitor their treatment, and making sure they have good techniques, that they’re getting good feedback, that they’re getting good results, and that we can modify any treatment that we need in order to get the best outcomes for them.”
The telehealth program also allows to offer the hospital some services to patients who live too far away for in-person teams to visit. Benz says that switching to telehealth-only wouldn’t have been practical for patients who need hands-on physical therapy. But adding a complementary service has created many different benefits for the hospital.
“We have had improvement in the amount of acuity; we’ve been able to take more severe patients on our service because we can give them a higher number of treatments,” she said. “We can have more of a monitoring presence in their house when previously we couldn’t, so that’s managed to open up some spaces if people happen to be at home, and that’s opened up some beds at the hospital for people who are unwell and require overnight monitoring.”
Benz said one of the biggest obstacles they had to overcome was skepticism from clinicians, who were afraid telemedicine would replace the face-to-face time they deemed necessary to do their work.
“There are physical therapists who, as a longtime training team for these patients, were very concerned that we would basically take the easy route and not bother to drive to people’s houses because we could see them via video, and also that the parents would elect to do video because it was more convenient for them,” Benz said. “So we had to put in place some policies and guidelines about how we would make sure we were providing not just equitable care, but improved care with the video call as opposed to our previous service which was just home visits.”
Benz will talk more about strategies her team used and challenges they encountered at a session at HIMSS19 entitled “Virtual Acute Care: Paediatric Physiotherapy with Telehealth.” It’s scheduled for Wednesday, February 13, from 2:30–3:30 p.m. in room W303A.
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