It’s here the blog we’ve all been waiting for… the reasoning behind my #VirtualOTPlacement! So, get a cuppa and be prepared it’s a long one!
Even before this pandemic, more and more healthcare services were making their way into the online world with lots of online evaluations being produced. As a result of this feedback, service users or ex-service users can have a say in how healthcare systems work via online tools. Although I am no longer a service user I have done and still do complete service user evaluation forms online. I have recently completed a pilot study for an international wheelchair company.
So, would it be beneficial to have more healthcare services online?
I took to Twitter as part of my #VirtualOTPlacement to find out more, I asked 2 questions.
- How important is it to you as a service user or an ex-service user that healthcare professionals work online?
- Should more healthcare services be online?
But first, let’s look at why technology, in general, can be important to people with disabilities…
“I’ve loved technology as it enhances, so much. From using an electric wheelchair since I was 2 and a laptop since around 8 I’ve grown up with it. Accessing services online isn’t a luxury it’s an adjustment the enables me to be independent.“Gemma Turner, @gem_turner
Technology is so important and can make life with a disability a lot easier, and I learnt this first-hand during my placement in assistive technology as just like Gemma mentioned it is sometimes the only way to enable independence.
“However it’s only until lockdown has commenced that I’ve truly seen how adjustments can be made so easily in all areas of my life… I do hope when things relax again we remember how easy it is to adapt and that we shouldn’t need a global crisis to be more inclusive.”Gemma Turner
I was planning this placement well before COVID-19; however, this pandemic has reminded us just how important and useful online services are. I also hope that once this is over people view being online in a different light, as it is a much easier alternative for those who find going to appointments challenging whether this is due to physical health or mental health.
“I think it would be so important for health workers to be online as it would allow things to be more flexible and accessible. Having more healthcare professionals online opens the service up to more people. There are so many reasons why appointments are not feasible which can cause things to be missed. Obviously face to face is still vital and cannot be replaced. Online makes it more readily available.“Chloe Tear, @chloeltear
This is a good point, and I think before we go any further, we need to reiterate that fact that the purpose of this blog is not to discuss replacing face-to-faces services. This blog is about using online healthcare as an additional aspect for those that can’t get out.
Working online does provides more versatility, an appointment is not just the contact time between you and the healthcare professional it’s the preparation and getting there that takes a lot longer therefore energy levels are affected. But having online healthcare means that these additional factors that affect fatigue can be reduced, and for some eliminated.
Georgina also talks about how beneficial online healthcare systems are in terms of access.
“My health varies widely day to day, so sometimes I am incapable of leaving my house safely, but I can still access online services. Plus, it means I can instantly communicate with the person I’m wanting to speak to rather than having to be diverted between receptions, secretaries and being put on hold.“Georgina Layton, @disabledtravelwithgeorgina
For some disabled people leaving the house and preparing for that appointment can take a lot more doing than the appointment itself. So therefore, being able to access services online fits in a lot better with their needs and can make that appointment a lot more manageable. Especially if you don’t live near to the services. How productive can you be in an appointment if you’re already worn out before you get there?
Being online also means that you can be more direct. Alright, it might be a general email but at least you’re not being put through to the switchboard or listening to phone music for hours.
Georgina also discusses why more services should be online and how COVID-19 has highlighted this…
“During COVID-19 lockdown, my health psychology therapy sessions are online. This is an amazing service as I can receive therapy in the privacy of my own personal space. My spinal cord damage means I don’t travel very well so being able to access service online takes away all the travel time, pain of travel and also the need for a carer the drives a care.“Georgina Layton
When I had counselling, physically going to the appointment added a lot more stress and when I could work on the techniques at home that’s when it worked because I was in my own familiar environment. One of the reasons I got so worked up about the session was because my Dad had to have the afternoon off work to take me and then that made me feel bad for my Dad and frustrated me as I just wanted to be independent. But if these services are online it means that I’m not dependent on others for lifts and not to mention feeling a lot more at ease being in my own home.
“I think it’s important that they are online so they can be easily contacted. Sometimes you get given a general number. I used to be self-conscious of my lisp so hated phone calls.”Francesca Hughes, @franariella
One major advantage of being online is that it gives me a voice. Due to my speech impairment, I find it hard to use the telephone and even face-to-face communication is hard when it’s with someone I’ve just met. But being online removes this barrier. Like Fran mentioned you don’t know who you are talking to on the phone at times which makes it harder still- I’ve even had people hang up on me before because they can’t understand what I’m saying. But now we can use email and other online platforms to communicate and this certainly makes the communication process a lot easier.
“Don’t get me wrong, health professionals need to be available in person- nothing can replace face to face care- but I do feel like online services are a vital part, especially for those with disabilities. Also, it’s a massive money saver if some things can be done online. It’s a case of getting the balance right to me and always seeing a patient face to face if needed or in any doubt!”Ellie Simpson, @TheActualEllie
It also can save money for the service users as well as they won’t have to pay transport costs, some people have multiple appointments a week, so it soon adds up.
I agree with Ellie, I’m not saying reduce face-to-face contact. I’m loving this placement, but I couldn’t see myself doing it full -time I’d still like physical contact with service users. But for those who can’t get out, a virtual appointment is definitely the best way forward.
But technology does have its flaws, and we also need to recognise that online services still need to be client-centred.
“I would say it is very important but we need to ensure the right technologies are used depending on the person with a disability. There are not many video calling apps that come with live captions so it’s challenging for hearing loss people. I have heard from many service users that have found telehealth so helpful particularly for those who can’t leave their house whether it because of anxiety, fatigue, or any other difficulties. I am hoping that the health service will continue to offer telehealth as an option.”Susan Griffiths, @SusanGriffiths5
Telehealth is a great example of online healthcare. However, just because healthcare is online doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be client-centred and just like Susan highlighted, we need to take into consideration individual circumstances. I’m not dismissing the fact that a lot of groundwork needs to be done to integrate health services with the online. But once its there this can be beneficial to the disabled as catching the bus to go to an appointment isn’t that simple.
These are a few (well quite a few, sorry for the long read- I just had so many great responses) examples of the advantages of online healthcare. I’m not saying that if it can be online it should be, that’s entirely down to that individual, and the service. But there should at least be an opportunity for choice, especially when it can help to promote independence as that is what occupational therapy is all about.
Thank you to those who helped in the making of this blog!
Thanks for reading,