An innovative virtual program trialled in rural NSW that was able to reduce the time older people living at home waited for a consultation with an allied health specialist is being expanded nationwide to any person on a Commonwealth home care package.
Developed by residential aged care and home care provider HammondCare, the program saves patients money by reducing the costs associated with travel to in-person consultations, freeing up funds for other care uses.
The HammondCare restorative care team developed its virtual restorative care (VRC) program to link home care clients – who often struggle with accessing face-to-face consultations – to occupational therapists, dieticians, physiotherapists and physiologists.
The trial found the virtual technology enabled faster direct access to allied health professionals with 82 per cent of high priority occupational therapist referrals and 100 per cent of high priority dietetics referrals being assessed within two weeks. The figures are an improvement on the average wait time of six weeks for a face-to-face assessment in remote regions.
HammondCare’s service manager for community rehabilitation and restorative care, Kate Needham, said the successful trial ended in January 2022 and the service was rolled out to HammondCare at home clients in western and far west NSW. It is also open to all HammondCare at home clients nationwide. It has so far reached more than 100 clients.
An allied health professional in the team completes a client consultation via a virtual platform on a tablet or mobile phone. Ms Needham said Microsoft Teams was used for consultations but other platforms could be used as required.
There is no requirement for the client to have their own device or high-speed internet connection.
During the consult, the patient is aided in their home by their care manager or worker, who supports them using a tablet or mobile phone to conduct sessions. The carer also helps complete the initial assessment, assists with equipment trials, measurements for home modifications and uses their local knowledge of service providers.
“This enables the session to be conducted as close to a face-to-face assessment with an allied health professional as possible,” Ms Needham said.
Client feedback from the trial indicated 87 per cent of those surveyed reported being very satisfied or satisfied with the service and 85 per cent would recommend it to others.
Restorative care team operations manager Angela Collins said regional and remote clients faced extended wait times to access allied health compared to their metropolitan counterparts. They also faced much higher costs to access this care due to travel expenses.
“These clients now have choice about how they receive expert in-home care – face-to-face in person or by technology,” Ms Collins said. “By providing an alternative affordable method of service delivery, clients can utilise their home care package funds for other needs (services, equipment and home modifications) as required.”
She said Microsoft Teams was chosen after scoping the virtual platforms available and how other telehealth is run. The consultation is between the allied health professional and the care manager present with the client, she said.
“The clinicians are using their work devices, therefore are familiar with this technology and are not relying on the clients having specific devices or skills in accessing technology,” she said.
Ms Needham said the program was being used in NSW, predominately western and far west NSW where it was now part of routine service delivery, but it was also open to all HammondCare at home clients nationwide and people on other home care packages.’
“People don’t need to be a HammondCare at home client to access the VRC service,” she said. “HammondCare can provide this service to home care clients accessing packages through other providers, however as yet this is still in its infancy including discussions and marketing to other providers.”
In December 2022 the program was recognised as a finalist in national awards for innovAGEING, the national network for the age services industry.
Health and palliative care general manager Andrew Montague said the project was developed after HammondCare realised its at home clients in regional and remote locations were disadvantaged.
“The restorative care team recognised there was a problem with these clients having access to timely, affordable and high-quality allied health services,” Dr Montague said. “This is a case of innovative thinking that is improving the quality of life for disadvantaged people with health needs.”