The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted society as a whole, reducing human contact to an unprecedented minimum to restrict the spread of a highly contagious virus.
Mostly requiring face-to-face engagement to assess injuries and provide support, the wider healthcare community has, as a result, been driven to a remote, virtual approach.
This was the case with the physiotherapy team at On Medical 24/7, who continue to deliver an outstanding service to clients in their time of need.
But how does this current normal fit in with the future? How difficult has the road been to achieve this virtual service offering? How have problems been overcome?
We discussed these issues with On Medical 24/7 Senior Physiotherapist Michael Armstrong:
How big an upheaval was it moving a primarily face-to-face operation to online?
It was a massive change. Everything about the job of a physiotherapist is associated with face-to-face interaction, whether teaching a patient new ways of moving, building a rapport or performing hands-on manual therapy. So, to change a whole vocation in a week was a huge challenge at the start of the pandemic in March 2020!
What have been the difficulties associated with this transition?
Mainly technological rather than physiological in my experience; physio’s have rapidly had to adapt to becoming IT support as well as improving injuries! Many patients aren’t just attending a virtual appointment for the first time; they’re also using video conferencing software for the first time too.
As physiotherapists have become more used to using the software, we have been able to guess at the most common IT issues encountered and have been able to suggest ways of addressing common problems in our role as virtual physio.
How can you provide the same outstanding service as a virtual physio?
Even before the lockdown, more and more scientific studies and research papers are showing that the interventions that have the biggest effect tend to be those that we teach patients to do themselves, rather than interventions that we can do to them. Identifying muscular imbalances, lifestyle changes that can be made, giving dietary and sleep advice and encouraging exercise can all be done quite sufficiently through a computer screen. Whilst it is not ideal, and we are looking forward to welcoming patients back into clinic, it is an excellent substitute.
Are clients appreciative of their online appointments?
They are. Many are surprised at the progress they’re able to make and are proud of learning a new skill in video calling!
Is there a future where virtual and face-to-face appointments can co-exist?
Yes, I think so. Once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, the next issue will be the climate emergency! I think that all businesses and all people have a duty to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount they use non-public transport, so virtual treatment, where appropriate, can play a part in this. Apart from the eco-friendly reasoning, it may also be more convenient for patients as it enables them to attend appointments during lunch breaks or when travelling away from the region etc. As the question mentions though, it’s my belief that it should be a co-existence, rather than virtual replacing face-to-face and only if the virtual option is desired by the patient.
How long do you see this continuing?
I don’t think I’m quite qualified to answer that, as the course of the pandemic has surprised politicians and scientists alike! But, from following news coverage, it looks like June 21st is the date in everyone’s diary! With regards to virtual vs face-to-face treatment, we’re led by the CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) who regularly update their guidance for clinicians depending upon the prevalence of the virus. We have fluctuated over the last year between only offering virtual treatment from our homes, offering virtual treatment from the North East Clinic, offering virtual treatment to most, but face-to-face treatment to those who are unable to access video calling and in late summer/early autumn when cases were at their lowest, we left it up to patient preference as to whether they attended virtually or in person. Since the most recent lockdown was announced, we’ve reverted to only offering virtual treatment, but we can accommodate face-to-face patients if they do not have access to a computer or smartphone, for example. I’d anticipate the CSP relaxing their guidelines alongside the government’s roadmap, as long as vaccines continue to work against new variants, staff and patients adhere to the COVID guidelines and numbers continue to fall.
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