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TechnologyMar 5, 2021

'Exponential' rise in use of digital technology among AHPs in Scotland as Covid-19 advanced

Physiotherapists and other allied health professionals (AHPs) in Scotland embraced the use of digital technology as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded in a way that was both ‘exponential’ and ‘completely unanticipated’.

That is one of the messages contained in an article – written by a team led by Lesley Holdsworth, a physiotherapist by background – that appears in the British Journal of Healthcare Management.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Advances in the 'digital revolution' (depicted in this image) are highlighted in the paper

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Dr Holdsworth, who has been the Scottish Government’s national clinical lead for digital health and care since 2015, received an OBE in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours for her contribution to physiotherapy and health services.

... the level of interest in digital solutions during the first four months of the pandemic was exponential and, in many ways, completely unanticipated [Lesley Holdsworth and colleagues]

'Unprecedented pressures'

The article charts the unprecedented pressures facing the NHS from March 2020: juggling the need to protect service users and clinicians from infection while continuing to offer as many mainstream services as possible.

During this period … ‘large numbers of the workforce were encouraged to work remotely using technology, such as telephone calls, video consultations and new peer-to-peer communication channels such as Microsoft Teams’, it notes.

‘Despite some significant initial successes, the level of interest in digital solutions during the first four months of the pandemic was exponential and, in many ways, completely unanticipated.'

NHS Near Me

The article discusses the impact of using webinars in preparing staff to work more remotely. A total of 2,320 people registered to attend a series of online training sessions, lasting from 60 to 75 minutes, that were run by the NHS Education for Scotland for AHPs in February 2020, using an existing digital platform called NHS Near Me. [See: https://www.nearme.scot]. Nearly 4,000 went on to view recordings of the sessions after they originally aired.

In the last week of February 2020, about 300 consultations were carried out via video conferencing – a number that had risen to nearly 100,000 consultations by March to May 2020. 

Feedback from an initial survey showed that 94 per cent of respondents said their video conferencing abilities as a result of attending the webinar.

Asked what had been most useful, 70 per cent said they gained a better understanding of how video conferencing worked, while 55 per cent reported having more confidence in using the system. Almost half (47 per cent) said their thinking about the types of patients or clients they could use it with had changed.

'Blended approach' is needed

Dr Holdsworth and her colleagues suggest that webinars proved to be a ‘successful, popular and easily accessible’ way of reaching large numbers of AHPs in Scotland.

They led to an increased knowledge about video conferencing among clinicians, who also felt more confident about using it, the authors conclude.

‘Undoubtedly, as immediate post-Covid-19 and recovery service plans are developed, video conference use, together with other digital solutions including telephone clinics, must be factored in.

‘However, consideration must be given to the preferences of individual clinicians and a blended approach is advocated to maximise the contribution that AHPs can make to service delivery.’

Key points 

  • many AHPs in Scotland had to work remotely to safeguard their patients and themselves
  • remote working, specifically using videos conferencing to provide care, was unfamiliar to many AHPs
  • webinars are a useful and evidence-based method of delivering education and learning on a large scale
  • webinars on video conferencing were well received, helping to increase clinicians’ understanding of, and confidence in using, video conferencing
  • more than three quarters of webinar attendees reported using video conferencing for most of their patients eight weeks after the webinar
  • in total, 12,065 AHPs work in healthcare in Scotland (8.5 per cent of the total clinical workforce)

The article’s co-authors are Debbie Provan, Gail Nash, Marc Beswick, Carol Curran, Iain Colhart and Ailidh Hunter.

To read the full version of the article (titled Can webinars support the implementation of video consultations at pace and scale within the allied health professions?) visit: https://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/pdfplus/10.12968/bjhc.2020.0127


See also: https://www.physioupdate.co.uk/on-the-move/scotland-digital-lead-lesley-holdsworth-among-those-named-in-queens-birthday-honours/

Author: Ian A McMillan
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