This research is supported by a Queensland Government Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship.
The Transition to Telepractice: Did it work and what next? Associate Professor David Trembath is spearheading a research project to optimise telepractice services.
If there is one good thing that has come out of the pandemic it is the shift to telepractice.
At least that is what some individuals with disability, families, and people who provide services are saying – saving time, reducing travel, and being able to connect more flexibly.
But has it actually worked? Do people like it, and what might the future hold?
Griffith University and Autism Queensland have joined forces to answer these questions.
HAS IT WORKED?
In general, yes, but not always. In a survey of 103 individuals and families accessing services and 57 staff, more than two thirds said they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with online services.
However, there have also been some barriers. Some of these we have known about for a long time, such as a lack of computer equipment, poor internet, and finding a private and distraction-free space at home. However, others we are just beginning to understand, such as some people not feeling confident to take on the roles that telepractice requires. For example, in a face-to-face appointment, occupational therapists often show parents how to encourage their children’s fine motor and play skills while playing with toys, before the parents take a turn and then apply the strategies at home. With telepractice, the same parents may need to jump straight in and try things, albeit with the guidance of the occupational therapist at the other end of the line.
DO PEOPLE LIKE IT?
Most people said they prefer face-to-face services, but online and hybrid approaches that combine online and face-to-face delivery were close behind. In fact, when we added people’s preferences for online- only and hybrid models, they actually exceeded preferences for face-to-face.
The vast majority of people said they prefer face-to-face when it comes to building relationships with service providers, as well as helping make “parent friends”. However, hybrid approaches were preferred when it comes to reducing stress, increasing comfort by being in a familiar home environment, accessing services within a busy schedule, and feeling in control. This suggests that one-size fits all approach is unlikely to be suitable for all people or all services.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
A decade of change quite literally happened in days, and we are just starting to understand and embrace the new normal. We can be confident that telepractice is here to stay, but there is still a way to go to make it work best for individuals and families.
TIPS FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
• Preparation is key. Try to have your technology sorted, reduce distractions, and create a personal mental ‘waiting room’ to gather your thoughts before jumping into an online appointment.
• Remember everyone is learning. The people you are working with are most likely still figuring it out, so offer ideas and work together to help make it a success.
TIPS FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS
• Keep it simple and work as a team. Invite the individuals and families to be partners in working out how to tailor it for each person’s needs and preferences.
• Be clear in advance about what people need to do to prepare and what to expect. So, when working with parents and children, provide a list of everything they will need and suggest they put it in a box, or on a shelf so it is ready to go. This avoids rummaging around during an appointment, which some children find very distracting.
• Reach out for support. The changes have been quick and online options are growing fast. Create or join a team, who can support you to be inquisitive, creative, and effective in this new way of working.