Over the last 6 months, healthcare has experienced a HUGE shift. As a result of the global pandemic we are all still living with, face to face health care experienced an absolute drastic decline. For obvious reasons. The NHS has had to prioritise managing Coronavirus care, health issues that were not deemed urgent became a very low priority and potential risk of transmission meant that many healthcare interactions shifted from face to face (in person) to virtual (aka online, video, phone consultations etc.).
This shift, in the earlier stages of the pandemic was absolutely necessary. As a local healthcare provider, we quickly set up an online service in order to continue to help people with their pain, injuries and recovery, with ‘virtual physiotherapy’ and a video Pilates service. There is no doubt this was needed and we helped many people.
Longer term, there is definitely scope for online and virtual healthcare services to continue. There are many opportunities and indisputable benefits of virtual healthcare:
- It can be cost effective, particularly for the NHS and larger organisations. Delivering services online is potentially much more cost effective, and the COVID situation has enabled this huge shift (that was already in the pipeline) to happen quicker. It can also be a more affordable way for patients to access healthcare.
- Access to specialist care is no longer geographically dependent. You don’t have to live in the same city or county as that specialist who may be best place to help you, access is now available more easily to anyone in the world.
- It can be more time efficient, not only for the Clinical team, but also for those accessing the service. You aren’t taking out the time needed for travel, parking, time off work etc. and can get the support you need from the comfort of your home.
- You may feel more relaxed and confident being in your own surroundings. Particularly when going out and about carries some risks, remaining in your own surroundings to access care can be preferable.
However, for all it’s potential benefits, there are so many reasons why it is so important for face to face care to continue.
Here’s a few of our thoughts on the huge value of face to face care.
- Personal connection – yes, you can connect online or on the phone, but let’s be honest, it really is second best. It’s wonderful if there’s no alternative and for some there isn’t – in the face of Coronavirus, if the risk of contracting the virus outweighs the need for face to face healthcare, access to virtual healthcare is essential and has huge benefits. But you really can’t beat having that personal, face to face connection with someone.
- All the non-verbal cues are crucial. How people stand, talk, move, sit, breath……..these cues are all such important aspects of an assessment and getting to the bottom of someones problem. Yes you can get some sense of these elements on video, but so much can be missed.
- Online fatigue – Anyone who’s been involved in endless Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams lessons, online quizzes and live Facebook streams, will inevitably be feeling the fatigue of thee online platforms setting in. Yes, technology is wonderful. Yes, it’s presented unimaginable opportunities, enrichment, information and connections, but the fatigue does set in and it’s so important that our lives don’t become focused purely around a screen and technology.
- Technology woes – Technology is great, but reliant on so many factors that don’t make it an equal experience for all. Your device (camera, sound, screen size for example) own understanding and technological ability, internet connection, physical space and lighting will all impact on how positive your experience is. For some it just ins’t accessible, whether that be access to the actual equipment or skills needed to make it work effectively.
- Privacy can be a serious consideration. You may not have the time or space at home or in the office to carry out a confidential appointment and have an open and honest discussion like you would in a private, clinical space.
- A more accurate diagnosis can be made in person, when you can actually feel, touch, move and interact fully with someone. It is a much more effective way of really getting to know someone, their aims, goals and story and what you need to do to help them.
- Engagement and interaction is much more effective – using skilled ‘hands’ to guide and support someone, whether that be in actual ‘hands on’ treatments or to assist and guide exercises, stretches, positions of rest or to ease pain, just can’t be replicated virtually in the same way. Engagement is crucial to get positive outcomes.
- Benefits from virtual support can plateau quickly – any support is generally limited to advice and exercise, which works well for many people but not everyone! Some people need more than this.
If you wanted to catch up with a friend, what would your preference be? Meeting up for a coffee in person or a phone call? Yes, a chat on the phone or a FaceTime can be great and meets a need, but if you had a choice, what would you rather? Just think about what additional joy you get from actually meeting your friend face to face!
Since we re-opened for face to face care, we have heard so many really sad and worrying stories. Stories of people being isolated for months, without any contact – coming to see us in a very safe, clean and relatively protected environment has been a lifeline, not only for their physical health but also psychologically. Their appointments have been their only physical contact.
We’ve seen people who didn’t know they could or had no way of accessing online or virtual support, so suffered for months unnecessarily. Sadly, we’ve also seen people who were misdiagnosed or have had serious illnesses missed
In the 20+ years since we’ve been working in the healthcare sector, we’ve never experienced such a change and shift and the physio profession is at risk of starting to become a little divided and fragmented in it’s approach. Face to face care doesn’t now look or feel quite the same (PPE, social distancing where possible and stripped back surroundings) – but our team are the same, our level of commitment and care is the same and our goal remains to help you, so even behind the mask, that’s what we’re doing.
We are always open to embracing progress and change and virtual and remote services are a very valuable way of helping people, but what is becoming very clear is that there is a clear need for more training and guidance in this area to ensure it is an effective way to delver what’s needed.