Victoria’s lockdown 3.0 shows how far a tech approach to community care has come

Elly Archer at Peninsula Health

Peninsula Health Physiotherapist Carla Richardson leads a telehealth appointment with a participant.

When the whole of the State was placed in a circuit-breaker lockdown last month, Peninsula Health Physiotherapist Carla Richardson knew staff were up to the challenge.

“Our reception staff began receiving calls within an hour of the government’s press conference, asking what the plan was for their appointments the following week,” says Carla.

“In reality, we knew what needed to be done because we had done it before with two previous lockdowns. The best option was to utilise telehealth for the lockdown period wherever possible.”

Around 100 physiotherapy and hand therapy appointments were moved online over a single weekend.

“All the planned appointments for the lockdown period were reviewed to ensure that a telehealth appointment was appropriate and wouldn’t impact negatively on the patient’s recovery,” says Carla.

“It was then a straight forward process that was championed by our reception staff who were able to message all the patients scheduled, providing quick and concise information about accessing telehealth. Patients were also provided with an option for us to contact them if they needed help or felt telehealth was not an option for them.”

Changing the thinking

Healthcare delivery has changed significantly throughout the course of the pandemic, with virtual models of care experiencing more than 300 per cent growth in the past year alone.

To put it in perspective, 41 consultations were held using a virtual model of healthcare across Peninsula Health during the 2016-17 financial year, compared to the more than 12,000 since July 1 of last year.

“When appropriate for the patient or client, our staff have been creative, flexible and innovative in their approach to healthcare delivery,” says Sally Harrowfield, Peninsula Health Head of Physiotherapy.

“Telehealth is allowing us to provide safe, personal, effective and connected care, without patients leaving their home or community.”

“While it can’t always replace face-to-face appointments, telehealth is often a very effective way to support our patients, particularly for follow-up or review appointments.”

Carla agrees and says virtual healthcare, even in typically high patient contact consultations such as a physiotherapy appointment, is often more effective than what she and the team thought.

“Telehealth enhances communication skills, you rely significantly more on verbal communication because our other body language is not as clear or accessible on a computer screen,” she says

“It certainly made me think more creatively about my practices, assessment techniques and treatment options and I also feel it has given some patient’s a stronger sense of control over their own rehab.”

“Our patients are embracing the technology and we are using a platform that has been fairly easy for most people to navigate.”

Looking past the pandemic

Peninsula Health Telehealth Project Worker Shona Callum says clinics and clinicians across the health service often turn to telehealth at times of need, discovering that the digital tools at their disposal could provide an ongoing access to care for consumers.

“We’re seeing a cultural shift within our services and models of care as both clinicians and patients embrace the variety of technology that is available to them and see the significant advantages it brings,” says Shona.

“Patients, consumers and clients have saved hundreds of kilometres of travel time every week, and not only is this keeping our healthcare settings safe during the pandemic but it’s having a positive impact on the environment and our community.”

“Now, Peninsula Health clinicians are looking for ways they can continue their commitment to providing high-quality virtual healthcare where appropriate beyond the pandemic.”

Shona says staff are continually learning and adapting their skills to make the most of what telehealth can provide ands have been exploring ways to embed these practices.

“All of our healthcare teams across Peninsula Health have done an amazing job bringing care to the home through a range of communications technology, especially video calling via Healthdirect and the dedication is making a significant difference to our consumers every day.”

If you are interested in a Telehealth appointment speak to your healthcare teams to see if telehealth is right for your situation. Want to know more? Go to our Telehealth page for more information.