CQUni’s swift pivot to telehealth a boon for patients and students

Published:06 May 2020

CQUni's Health Clinic has adopted telehealth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured in the Occupational Therapy telehealth clinic are Robyn Sedgwick – Occupational Therapy Clinical Educator (top left), Jacqueline Harper – Fourth Year Occupational Therapy Student (top right) and patient Hamish Wonnocott (bottom).

With fewer patients able to attend CQUniversity’s student-led health clinics in Rockhampton, Mackay, Brisbane and Sydney, due to COVID-19 restrictions, clinical educators have been quick to pivot to offer telehealth services.

It’s not only created a lifeline for patients and a model for expansion of telehealth services into rural areas but also a special learning experience for students across the disciplines of Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Chiropractic Sciences, who operate under clinical supervision by registered health professionals.

Fourth-year Physiotherapy student Samantha Bainbridge said client feedback on the telehealth services provided from the Rockhampton student clinic had been largely positive.

“We have been working as a pair of students, which has been handy for demonstrating movements and pinpointing areas of the body in question,” she says.

“For those who could only arrange phone access, rather than video, we were still able to include an educational aspect which helped with better understanding of the patient’s condition, checking in on their progress with home exercise programs, and their self-management options for treatment.

“Our clients ranged from elderly people seeking advice on strengthening exercises to avoid falls and increase mobility, to people recovering from shoulder and neck strains and knee reconstructions.

“In some cases, we were able to encourage family members to be involved with the patient’s treatment. For example, we were able to have a telehealth consultation with an elderly patient and have their daughter provide assistance with exercises. This is an aspect of treatment that is not possible if the family members are not present during face-to-face consultations.”

Health Clinic Manager Helen Bourne said that, when COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, the various teams strategised very early on about transferring to telehealth.

“This worked simply because I have a great team,” she said.

“It was challenging, but we were very organised and the teams worked together to set it all up.

“Our CQUni Health clinic footprint will be able to extend beyond our clinic locations and multidisciplinary treatment will also be possible.”

Students from Chiropractic will be practicing their telehealth skills across the three locations and have patients booked in from next week.

Speech Pathology will be added in the future to assist the community and build strong student skills.

Physiotherapy Clinical educator Kasey Bonato noted that the transition to telehealth also had the potential to connect students across clinic locations.

“With Physio clinics ready to operate soon in both Rockhampton and Brisbane, we can enable students to shadow telehealth sessions going on in another location, with permission of the clients,” she said.

“Another fresh opportunity planned is an offering of telehealth-based exercise classes. We will also have our students doing intensive research on specific conditions, such as osteoarthritis, so we can offer Q&A sessions for our regular patients as well as interested community members.

“We are also reaching out to potential clients in the Emerald region, who may like to teleconference with either our Rockhampton or Brisbane clinics.

“Meanwhile, using approved infection control principles, we can continue to offer hands-on, face-to-face services at the clinics, as long as we continue to meet current government restrictions.

“Setting up for telehealth has been challenging but our goal has been to offer the most professional service delivery for patients while ensuring students receive the best clinical learning experience they can.”

Fourth-year Occupational Therapy student Jacqueline Harper, who conducted her telehealth clinics from her home, said that moving to telehealth meant she could still offer quality occupational therapy support to those who needed it.

“The proposal of telehealth was an exciting opportunity to continue progressing with my studies, which I am very grateful for. It ensures that the CQUni Health Clinic can offer quality occupational therapy services to families, continue to meet community needs and support any challenges that may arise during COVID-19,” she said.

“I like that telehealth is increasing access to services and allowing people to remain connected during these unprecedented times,” she said.

“As occupational therapy is a client-centred profession, the use of telehealth has allowed us to engage with clients within their home environment, which has provided valuable insight into individual circumstances and subsequently enhanced the experience overall.

“Like anything new, there have been some challenges, including navigating new processes and problem-solving technical issues. However, these challenges have also proved beneficial for learning new ways of building rapport and increasing technological literacy for all involved.”

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