Dr Belinda Lawford1, Prof Rana Hinman1, Prof Alicia Spittle2, Dr Renata Morello3, Prof Kim Bennell1
1Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, Department of Physiotherapy, School of Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2Department of Physiotherapy, School of Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 3National Disability Insurance Agency, Melbourne, Australia
Objective: Investigate user experiences with allied healthcare services delivered via telehealth for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods: Survey of people with permanent or significant disabilities, or their carers/partners/family, who were funded by the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme and accessed allied healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Information about accessing services, and experiences using telehealth, was collected. Data were analysed by calculating response proportions.
Results: 1,672 people spanning metropolitan, regional, and rural Australia completed an online survey between June and September 2020. 1,054 (63%) experienced transition of at least one of their allied healthcare supports to telehealth (34% to telephone; 66% to video) during the pandemic. More than half of participants were happy with the privacy/security of the telehealth consultation (telephone vs video: 63% vs 69% respectively), found the technology easy to use (55% vs 51%), felt safe during the consultation (71% vs 78%), believed the care they received was effective (52% vs 61%), and were happy with the management they received (62% vs 66%). Less than one-third of participants believed that telehealth was better than in-person consultations (11% vs 13%) and that they were likely to choose to use such services after the pandemic (31% vs 33%).
Conclusion: Although people with disabilities, or their carers, had generally positive experiences with telehealth, there were some negative experiences, including difficulties using the technologies and communicating via telehealth. While most indicated that they would prefer in-person consultations after the pandemic, around one-third would be likely to choose to use telehealth.
Dr Belinda Lawford is a post-doctoral musculoskeletal researcher at the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at The University of Melbourne. Her research mostly focuses on osteoarthritis and telehealth by allied healthcare professions, particularly physiotherapists. She has particular expertise in qualitative methodologies.