6 May 2020: To cater to contemporary demand, the University of Canberra health clinics have fully transitioned to offering telehealth services – and are now serving the community in an even wider capacity than before.
With a focus on multi-disciplinary, evidence-based care, the clinics are run by students from the various Faculty of Health disciplines, in the final two years of their degrees.
Based at the University’s Health Hub, the clinics offer high quality services at a reduced cost, and all appointments are conducted under the supervision of clinical educators who are registered and experienced health professionals.
“The clinics provide a myriad benefits for both the students, who get hands-on learning experience in a real world setting, as well as patients, who are able to enjoy affordable and accessible healthcare,” said Professor Michelle Lincoln, Executive Dean of the University’s Faculty of Health.
“In the situation we find ourselves in now, with distancing and isolation very important to public health, it only makes sense that the clinics offer telehealth services for the community. Many people just aren’t comfortable walking into a clinic or health centre right now, but still have health concerns that need to be addressed.”
The shift to telehealth will allow the clinics to serve a wider population in the future, including rural and regional communities beyond Canberra, says UC Health Clinics Manager Sally Jackson.
The clinics include:
- Neurological Rehabilitation: group therapy for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s Disease;
- Physiotherapy: pain and injury assessment and treatment;
- Occupational Therapy for children and adolescents: development of skills to support participation in everyday life;
- Psychology: assessment and management of anxiety, depression, emotional regulation, self-esteem and stress issues;
- Counselling: support for emotional wellbeing and challenges such as bereavement or anxiety;
- Exercise Physiology: exercise classes for better health;
- Optometry: assessment and treatment of vision, glasses prescription and education and intervention to support eye health;
- Nutrition and Dietetics: dietary assessment, education and advice;
- Cancer Care; wellbeing and health promotion before, during and after treatment for cancer
- A brand-new Speech Pathology clinic, available from June.
The telehealth services are delivered via the Coviu platform; patients just need a smartphone or computer with camera and microphone capabilities and an Internet connection to access services.
No software is required. Clients just click on a provided link to be taken into a virtual waiting room – which happens to be equipped with much better music than most real-life waiting rooms!
Some sessions can also be delivered over the phone.
For those unfamiliar with the platform – or with video consultations – practitioners will guide them in a how-to over the phone, before starting the actual consult. Information sheets are also sent out prior to an appointment.
“Coviu is easy to connect with and user-friendly,” said Lead Physiotherapy Clinical Educator Luise Hollmann. “We also chose it for its security, cost-effectiveness and the fact that it allows multiple people in a consult, which you need for student practitioner work. It also has a whiteboard tool, which allows diagrams to be drawn.
“If a client wants to show us an X-ray of theirs, they can hold it up to the screen, we take a photo of it and it can then be added to our patient files.”
After the initial telehealth appointment, patients get a report, which include treatments and short and long-term goals; for some clinics, an exercise program may be sent via email.
“Clients also get follow-up access to the practitioner during the week following their telehealth appointment, so it’s a more holistic experience,” said Ms Hollmann.
Practitioners have received overwhelmingly positive feedback for the new delivery method, with patients grateful to be able to access health services without having to leave the house.
“We also find that one of the positives of the telehealth services is patients tend to take more responsibility for their own health care,” Ms Flynn said.
The shift to telehealth didn’t come without challenges: clinical educators and students had to be upskilled in service delivery, ie. in interacting with the camera or demonstrating a therapy. A lot of research into appropriate technology and accessibility, data security and compliance with Australian guidelines had to be conducted.
“There’s been a lot of intensive learning, but the student practitioners in particular have been very enthusiastic in their response, and in finding new ways of doing things,” Ms Hollmann said. “Many of the students have taken the initiative to put together materials to help clients prepare for sessions.”
“For instance, we’ve seen that occupational therapists who work with children have had to adapt their practices to shift towards parent education – then the parent goes on to work with the child.
“From a learning and teaching perspective, telehealth delivery has seen the students really developing their problem-solving and communication skills, professionalism, clinical analysis and reasoning.”
In a time of distancing that doesn’t seem like it’ll be over any time soon, the UC Health Clinics are going above and beyond by keeping people connected.
“We can see that there has been a real sense of wanting to connect on the part of patients,” Ms Flynn said. “And the student practitioners really value being able to keep them connected.”