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Teletherapy: an innovative opportunity?

Co-authored by Honorary Associate Adjunct Professor Kerrie Mahon*, and Professor Sharon Mickan, Head of Healthcare Innovation at Bond University. As a member of the Healthcare Innovations Advisory Board, Kerrie Mahon has written this blog with Sharon to share the perspective of “innovation in action” within an organisation that Kerrie leads.

What is teletherapy?

Teletherapy enables allied health professionals to deliver rehabilitation or developmental therapy activities with their clients via an internet connection. They can interact together and progress towards therapy goals, as if they were in a face-to-face session.

Mostly, clients engage with support from a family member, who can print and prepare home based resources for the therapy session.

Why use teletherapy?

Teletherapy offers a continuation of therapy programs when families cannot travel to their usual healthcare centre. While some clinicians are concerned about the impersonal approach, clients who find social interactions challenging have really appreciated it. Other clients have valued the benefits of convenient access to therapy services, in that they do not have to leave home, drive long distances, pay for parking and cope with a disrupted routine. In many instances, children feel more comfortable in their home environment, so they are more motivated and realistic in their interactions.

How does teletherapy work?

Scheduling is more convenient and access to specialised therapy that was not previously available is opened up for clients who live in distant or rural areas. Clinicians can maximise their time and be more efficient in scheduling online appointments, while clients who are marginally unwell and who may have erred on the side of not attending an appointment can switch to a teletherapy session. Also, teletherapy can mean fewer cancellations and absolutely no driving or traffic challenges. For clients who need the support of a carer, the teletherapy sessions can improve their knowledge and interactions. It can reinforce home therapy activities, and in some cases embed these activities into daily routines.

Innovation in action at Montrose: What are the real benefits of teletherapy?

In the short time that teletherapy has been provided in a local community service through Montrose Therapy & Respite Services, families have chosen to participate because they have found it more convenient to stay at home and they were able to continue an existing program of therapy services. Customers who suffered from anxiety have reported online therapy as less stressful because it is from the comfort of their home. Some children have found it novel to engage with, and interact through, computer screens and carers have benefited from building knowledge in how they can help improve the life of the person that they care for. Therapists reported that the approach can bring them into a client’s home in a virtual sense, to more fully adapt the therapy to the client’s own environment.

In the future, the team at Montrose believe it may be possible to combine both teletherapy and face-to-face therapy to take advantage of the different therapy formats for specific needs.

Teletherapy in action  

In one local community service, teletherapy provides families with access to specialist therapists with experience in developmental delay, neuromuscular disabilities and paediatric disability services.

Before COVID-19, Sunshine Coast mum, Megan, coordinated her three children into the car to travel to the Montrose Service Centre at Maroochydore for daughter Lexie to receive Speech and Occupational Therapy. In an online video discussion she explained that the family found the switch to teletherapy had added benefits beyond convenience. It allowed both Megan and the Montrose therapists to work with Lexie in her home environment where she is more comfortable. They would see Lexie perform tasks that she had been unable to complete in the unfamiliar surroundings of a therapy room.

For children and young people with a disability, seeing their therapist online rather than in-person may be more common in the future. A quick survey of Montrose customers showed 32% of respondents were likely to use a combination of teletherapy and centre-based appointments even after COVID-19.

Teletherapy offers the best of home-based therapy for a limited changeover cost. For Montrose Therapy & Respite Services it was a practical alternative to face-to-face appointments that have traditionally been used to deliver services.

Kerrie Mahon

*Associate Professor Kerrie Mahon serves as a member of the Healthcare Innovations Advisory Board of Bond University, is a Director of the Board of Relationships Australia, Queensland, and is CEO of Montrose Therapy & Respite Services. Her qualifications include a Masters of Philosophy in Corporate Governance, Strategy and Risk, and a Bachelor of Business, Health Administration.  

Montrose Therapy & Respite Services has a long history of re-inventing itself for new challenges, having been established in 1933 as the Queensland Society for Crippled Children in response to the Polio epidemic at the time. In more recent years the organisation gained expertise in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and other neuro-muscular conditions. Its services today are mostly provided under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and are focussed on Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy. 

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