Telehealth is something very new to me as I believe it is to most healthcare workers. Until I met Jo, my only experience of telehealth was sending triage photographs to a GP who was over worked and under trained in telehealth. So, I was skeptical about at how person-centred care could be delivered without ever physically meeting the person. I’ve worked as a support worker for the past three years. To say I had strong views on healthcare and how the people in the system were treated is an understatement. This has all changed during my time here at JBOT. In this blog post I want to talk about the positives and negatives that face telehealth. And how it can promote person-centred holistic care from the comfort of your own home.
Starting with obvious, telehealth reduces barriers by improving accessibility. If someone can turn on a computer or has someone to do it for them, they are able to access high quality healthcare regardless of location. A study conducted in the wake of COVID-19 showed that access to healthcare has increased by 56.8% due to the introduction of telehealth. The ability to access high quality care from the comfort of your home is something that I believe is invaluable.
I’ve helped clients get up early, travel miles and sit in uncomfortable waiting rooms to access a specialists multiple times. The process left me feeling upset and disappointed for them. However, it was something they just accepted. “This is how it’s always been Judith” was I what I was told constantly. Why should my clients have to suffer for possible days after to have access to something they are entitled to? They shouldn’t and thanks to the introduction of telehealth they hopefully won’t anymore. This leads on to my next point about person-centred care.
Person-centred care is what it says on the tin, creating care that focuses on the need of the individual. We are NOT our conditions. I believe I will be screaming that from roof tops for the rest of my life. However, telehealth allows that to be the case. Being able to access a health provider from the comfort of your own space. And on your own terms, gives you so much more control over your healthcare experiences. In talking to some telehealth regulars – the ability to say, “I’m done now” and disconnect from a call and flop in bed is invaluable. Over the past 7 weeks working with Jo, I’ve seen how each appointment varies and is tailored to the individual.
Camera off appointments, lying down in pyjamas, being able to talk about anything and everything you want. The ability to control your own healthcare experience has been priceless. This is especially true for people who are immunocompromised.
Going into a hospital or a traditional healthcare setting does increase the risk of infection. For the client groups I have worked in, this has always been a huge risk. Since the pandemic I believe there is more awareness around trying to minimise the spread of infectious diseases. But, as everything has opened back up and gone back to ‘normal’, infectious diseases have been running wild (e.g. strep A). We seem to have forgotten about those who are immunocompromised. The implementation of telehealth would allow this client group to access healthcare at a lower risk to their health. Even people who are not immunocompromised, an infection can be a cause for major concern. There can often have a knock-on effect to all other symptoms. Minimising this risk comes at a benefit for everyone.
So far, I have discussed the three main positives I believe telehealth has provided to the healthcare community. However, not everything can be sunshine and rainbows. So, for the latter part of this post, I will discuss the common negatives associated with telehealth. And how we can perhaps combat them.
Telehealth may increase health disparities as it is reported only 64.4% of the world have access to the internet. People that don’t have access to computers cannot benefit from the all the positives we have previously discussed. I understand that this could be an issue. However, more people taking part in telehealth would create space in tradition healthcare settings for people who can’t access online. The accesibility of telehealth also benefits healthcare professionals. This means an a increased workforce because disabled healthcare workers can contribute more easily. This could be an idealistic view however what are we if not hopeful for future possibilities?
There is a belief that not all healthcare can be provided virtually. Sometimes it can be difficult to provide assessments virtually, especially standardised ones. The view from a computer screen gives limited detail and context! This I believe is currently valid. Only so much can be gained from working virtually and it relies a lot more on honesty from the client. If the therapeutic relationship is there, then there is less of an issue however that cannot always be relied upon. Telehealth will work for some and not for others and that is okay.
For me, it is more about giving people the option and working towards a more holistic approach of healthcare. Telehealth and traditional healthcare should be used in conjunction with each other. Where telehealth currently lacks, traditional healthcare can thrive and vice versa. This is not a one without the other situation. They can used hand in hand to create the best healthcare experience for clients. Telehealth is also a comparatively new concept in the healthcare world. As people investigate further, the ability of what can be done within it will flourish.
So, there you have it. My argument as to why telehealth should be investigated and promoted as a way of providing person-centred holistic care. Telehealth can allow clients to have choices in how they embark on their healthcare journey. It allow accessibility for those that previously told me “This is just how it is”. This is NOT just how it is. I will continue to emphasise that as I continue my journey as a healthcare professional.
About the Author:
Judith Baird is a student occupational therapist, new to the south of England from Scotland. She has a special interest in complex needs. You can reach her via email if you’d like to get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
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