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TechnologyMar 10, 2021

Digital health and care clinical lead Lesley Holdsworth says: 'We need to further upskill staff'

Lesley Holdsworth, one of the UK’s most prominent proponents of using digital technology to modernise the way in which healthcare is delivered, has acknowledged it does not offer all the answers.

Dr Holdsworth – who received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in the 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours for services to physiotherapy and health care – is the Scottish Government's national clinical lead for digital health and care.

She holds that post on a part-time basis and is also a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at Glasgow Caledonian University's department of physiotherapy and paramedicine.

A 'blended' approach will be needed as the threat from Covid-19 recedes

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Dr Holdsworth led a team that described how physiotherapists and other allied health professionals (AHPs) in Scotland embraced the use of webinars and virtual appointments as Covid-19 swept through the country last year. The team’s paper appeared in last month’s British Journal of Healthcare Management (BJHM), as reported here 

Asked for an update on developments in recent months, Dr Holdsworth told PhysioUpdate on 9 March:

‘The use of digital solutions continues to increase within health and care settings. Services are being delivered in a variety of settings – examples of this include one-to-one musculoskeletal service delivery using media, such as Near Me, for groups including antenatal provision and chronic pain services. The use of Near Me has increased from 300 at the end of February 2020 to 21,000 last week.’ 

Your BJHM paper talks about the need for a ‘blended response’ in AHP service delivery. What does this mean in practice?

‘Once traditional “in person” services can resume safely, it will be important for us to take the best of our experience from delivering care during the pandemic and ensure that we blend that into our future pathways.’

Staff can become 'fatigued' by constant screen-based work

Dr Holdsworth continued: ‘There are many benefits associated with using video conferencing for example – the saving and cost of travel time and the impact of the environment, the overall convenience for the service user and the increased productivity of services.

‘However, working all day through a screen is also fatiguing and there is always the need for social contact. Into the future, blending more digital solutions throughout the pathway will be key.’

What is your biggest frustration in terms of rolling out virtual appointments and webinars more widely?

‘Interacting through digital media does require a different set of skills to maximise the experience. Ensuring that the workforce is skilled and aware is a development need and the pace of change has moved quicker than the ability to upskill everyone – this can be frustrating. However, we do need to embed these skills.’

Without a doubt, the pace and scale has been exponential, and we have progressed this agenda by five to 10 years over the last one [Lesley Holdsworth]

Though, of course, the impact of Covid-19 has been awful, has it also spurred changes that might have taken much longer to implement?

Dr Holdsworth responded: ‘Without a doubt, the pace and scale has been exponential, and we have progressed this agenda by five to 10 years over the last one. Both clinicians and the workforce have had to use digital solutions because there was no choice. What will be important going forward is to continue to offer citizens a choice of how they want to interact with service providers.'

Technology never stands still. What are the next challenges for you and your team?

‘There will be a major focus on workforce development – we have plenty of tech and digital solutions, we need to use what we already have in the most optimal way and a workforce who is confident and skilled in their use,' Dr Holdsworth concluded.

Alliance Scotland report examines impact of Covid-19 on service users

Dr Holdsworth’s conviction that ‘people need to be given choices’ over how their healthcare is delivered was echoed in a recent publication from Alliance Scotland. This examined how people with various health and social needs have been affected by the impact of Covid-19 on service delivery.

Among other things, people told Alliance Scotland they wanted:

  • choice and flexibility 
  • access to equitable and consistent care

  • clear and inclusive communication

  • digital [solutions], but not by default

See Health, Wellbeing and the COVID-19 Pandemic – Our Findings: https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/blog/news/health-wellbeing-and-the-covid-19-pandemic-our-findings



Author: Ian A McMillan
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