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Telehealth – virtually impossible?

Photo of Rachel Andrew
Photo of Rachel Andrew

It has long been said that telehealth is a great way of getting our health needs met, especially in rural communities. But let’s face it, our health care professionals didn’t use it and we didn’t like the thought of it. Then COVID happened.

I’m a pelvic floor physiotherapist – a “vagina” physiotherapist. So I’m a member of a scientific and very physical profession. Pre-COVID I had been thinking about telehealth because it’s supposed to be so good and I see a lot of women who have to travel a long distance. But I couldn’t wrap my head around how it would actually work.

I thought that telehealth was practically impossible for my work, and I had a lot of personal hang-ups at the thought of it: the technology, the security, and whether it would even work to help my patients. But because of COVID I had to give it a go as I couldn’t continue to work face to face in a way that was safe for my clients or myself.

When I researched it, I found a surprising amount of evidence of its effectiveness. There are a lot of studies for things like back and knee pain and even urinary incontinence and they all show that it is as effective as conventional physio appointments. For psychology, specialist or GP appointments, it can be extremely effective.

I did some training in how to set my room up. I found a secure medical program like Skype, and a backup option (a telephone call) if it didn’t work.

So, what happens? It varies slightly depending on the platform your health provider uses, but you will get an email with a link to a virtual “room” you click into at the time of your appointment and you’ll get a little information about telehealth. Then you’ll get a split screen and see your health provider. They can ask you questions, take your history, clarify what has been happening, show you pictures, send you documents through the program, and even directly send prescriptions to you and a pharmacy.

With my profession,  you might be asked to do certain movements or try different things after the appointment and you’ll be given a plan for each result. I tend to follow up the appointment with an email summary of important information.

Some of the significant benefits can be

  • It’s quicker – no travel time – you just have to clink the link at your appointment time
  • It’s convenient
  • It’s cheaper – no travel costs, parking fees, time off work
  • The treatment is safe and effective
  • It’s bulk billed (check with your healthcare provider when you book the appointment). This means you can probably see your GP or specialist for no out-of-pocket expenses.
  • If you have a Team Care Arrangement as part of a GP management plan the appointment for allied health (physio, dietician, speech pathology etc.) can be bulk billed for some people (again check before the appointment)
  • Telehealth puts you in charge of your own health
  • You may or may not choose to change out of your pyjamas

Telehealth doesn’t work for everyone. Some people don’t have the room or the privacy at home. However, it does work for a lot of people, and as a physio I have done a 360o turnaround in my attitude.

The treatment is so much in the story. With an experienced clinician and the right questions, the treatment can be tailored to you.

I’m finding that new clients who I haven’t seen “in the flesh” are getting better. The treatment is as effective, and sometimes it seems I can progress people more quickly. Even a short appointment helps keep people on track, allows any worries to be eased and helps me progress their rehab, so they keep getting better during this weird time.

Especially for new clients it is a really great way to learn what has been going on with them, question and problem solve and get them started with treatment.

People have to take responsibility for their own health - they are doing things and observing what happens and reporting back. Then we make a new plan.

This is something my clients have asked me to keep doing when things are back to “normal” as they have found it beneficial and easier that travelling to town, so I am keeping it in the diary.

I would encourage you to get in touch with your health care provider if you are worried about anything – use the telehealth option if you are self-isolating and don’t neglect your general health care.