October 12, 2021

Phoning in on Telehealth Awareness Month

October marks National Telehealth Awareness Month.

This year’s themes are promotion and awareness of telehealth and virtual care for consumers, and addressing digital inequity and digital literacy.

As part of our response to COVID-19, Northern Health introduced telehealth as a strategy to support patients attending our Specialist Clinics (Outpatients). Now, telehealth is used right across our health service.

Earlier this year, a Telehealth Hub was launched – a new, redesigned and dedicated space where clinicians can conduct video or phone call appointments with patients.

Meggan Barratt, Speech Pathologist, works in Community Therapy Services at Broadmeadows Hospital. She sees clients who have a range of communication, cognitive and swallowing difficulties due to stroke, progressive neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, respiratory conditions and brain injuries.

When Meggan was first introduced to telehealth appointments, she said she was nervous and excited to use telehealth with her clients.

“I wondered how my patients would respond to completing their therapy and reviews over video or phone call. I was particularly excited about using video telehealth, as it meant no masks for our clients with communication impairments, which makes therapy much easier,” Meggan said.

“I’ve had a really positive experience providing client care over telehealth. I have received some great feedback from clients and clinicians regarding the ease and accessibility of the video telehealth platform. The video call quality is generally really clear, making it feel like we are in person.”

The implementation of telehealth has meant Meggan has been able to continue seeing her patients for block therapy during COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, which has ensured her patients continue to progress with their goals.

“I have a fond memory of using video telehealth with a client who had significant communication impairment. Her daughter assisted us by setting up the video call and helped to facilitate the sessions on the other end of the video when needed,” Meggan said.

“One of this client’s goals was to be able to say her daughter’s name, which was achieved through video telehealth. Video telehealth enabled me to provide the appropriate auditory and visual cues required for this form of therapy. It was lovely to see this client’s and her daughter’s response to saying her daughter’s name accurately for the first time.”

Laura is a Northern Health patient and has been participating in weekly therapy over telehealth since August with Aneta Boskovska, Speech Pathologist. Laura was referred to our speech pathology team by Austin Health, for communication assessment and management, after a sudden collapse at 33 weeks pregnant left her diagnosed with right cerebellar hemangioblastoma, requiring craniotomy and resection of cerebellar lesion and an emergency C-section.

Laura uses telehealth for communication therapy, targeting difficultly pronouncing longer words due to the movement of her muscles and cognitive communication deficits such as generating ideas, planning, problem solving and organising.

Her goals have been to optimise speech in day-to-day activities, build confidence to communicate and maintain social relationships, build independence in complex communication tasks such as email writing, phone calls and planning and aiming to return to work as a teacher.

“So far, telehealth has been great, I can’t fault it. It means I still get to do my therapy during lockdown, which is good as I haven’t missed out,” Laura said.

“It’s been easy to log on to and the process has been seamless.”

Laura said saving travel time, undertaking therapy in the comfort of her own home and reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure has been some of the many benefits of using telehealth.

“I would recommend it. It’s been easy to use. I’ve got no complaints about it. I think my family and friends would enjoy using it as well,” she said.

Tracey Webster, Telehealth Coordinator, said, “Telehealth allows patients to be able to see clinicians and patients can share images and photographs. For patients that are hard of hearing, it allows them to lip read. Telehealth allows clinicians to have the patient, a family member, an interpreter, GP or Allied Health staff in the call together,” she said.

“When patients see their clinician via telehealth, they can save money on petrol, parking, and public transportation. Even better, they don’t waste time travelling or risk running into a traffic jam that makes them late for their appointment.”

Featured image: Speech Pathologist, Aneta Boskovska, conducting a telehealth appointment with Laura