Rapid pivot to online for Southern Rehab
Apr 26, 2020
You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image. Southern Rehab chief executive and physio Mark Shirley talks to client Bevan Ellis over the Telehealth portal he and other staff are using to carry out appointments. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The world of physiotherapy has gone through some mammoth changes in the Alert Level 4 lockdown — and some of those changes, such as the ability to deliver appointments virtually, were implemented within a busy 48 hours at Southern Rehab. Southern Rehab employs about 600 physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists across the South Island. Its Dunedin-based chief executive Mark Shirley said only a few staff were able to carry out essential care in the lockdown, and within the 48 hours before it started, they had to scramble to ensure all therapists could use an online system called Telehealth to continue appointments. Over the past year Southern Rehab had increased its digital presence, and staff had the devices to work virtually. "What happened when we got to Level 4 was we pivoted and put all of our consults bar a few services ... on Telehealth. "That was a massive, massive change for us." He was impressed with how his workforce adapted. "In terms of our profession a lot of it is based on this kind of concept of therapeutic relationships — you know the person you’re working with —you read a little bit of body language and it just changes over the internet." He said the number of clients they usually got at Southern Rehab had dropped by half. Mr Shirley said he was thankful ACC had agreed to fund the delivery of care through Telehealth at the same level as face-to-face appointments. Before lockdown began the funding for Telehealth appointments was "nowhere near" what it was for an in-person visit. Increases to Telehealth funding, combined with the wage subsidy had stopped Southern Rehab having to lay staff off. "There’s been no redundancies ... all of our staff have taken a reduction in pay for a period of time until things start to improve for us. "On top of that they’ve been working really hard to remain as productive as possible." Level 3 was going to be the same for Southern Rehab — face-to-face was only accepted in cases where injuries were life-threatening. They have been discussing how they would operate in Level 2. "We’re going to have to adopt a number of changes in terms of making sure there’s good social distancing within waiting rooms. "That we’re still following those really good sanitisation processes ... if there’s some type of contact tracing we’ll have to make sure we’re compliant." The changes that had been forced on physio and occupational therapy would have lasting effects, Mr Shirley said. "I guess the interesting bit to reflect on is ... what lessons can we learn as an organisation around virtual healthcare that may help us to deliver services to people that otherwise don’t have access to bricks and mortar physiotherapy buildings. "There’s always going to be the need to see people face-to-face but we might be able to provide some of that remote or virtual support into the future. "That’s been a real benefit. It has forced us to think and move with a pace that we’ve never seen before." He said the work done to enable their 600 staff to work virtually with clients within 48 hours was "incredible". "Adoption of technology, especially in the healthcare sector, can sometimes take a lot longer than it should, so being a part of that has been quite exciting to watch."