BHTA video assessments and assistive technology roundtable
From left to right: Matthew James, Director of Precision Rehab; Nash Kumar, Director at Higher Elevation; James Bennett, Sales and Marketing Director at Care & Independence; Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager at NRS Healthcare; Rachel Russel, Senior Regional Advisor for Foundations UK; and Clare Barber, Professional Services Manager at Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)

A panel of experts in the field of assistive technology from leading organisations, including DLF and Foundations, came together recently to discuss the shift to virtual assessments and its impact on the delivery of services at the first of a new roundtable series.

Hosted by the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), the event marked the first in a series of roundtables from the association, aiming to shine a spotlight on pertinent topics and issues in the field of assistive technologies.

Six specialists involved in the assessing and prescribing of assistive technologies gathered at the iconic Tower Hotel to share their insights into the acceleration of video assessments in the wake of the COVD-19 pandemic.

As a result of the lockdowns, virtual assessments saw substantial growth, as public and private providers of assistive technology equipment moved online to maintain service provision while keeping staff and clients as safe as possible. Now, as service provision returns to a semblance of normality, the health and care system is considering the role virtual assessment should continue to play in the assessment process and it tackles the significant backlogs caused by the COVID-19 disruption.

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According to the ‘The Hidden Waits’ briefing document by Community Network released this month, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) data from January 2022 estimates that over 900,000 children and adults are waiting for services as part of a community services care backlog.

In the publication, Community Network notes that: “Community providers are also using new virtual tools and technologies to see as many patients as possible in a timely way. For instance, using digital technologies, such as virtual consultations for children’s speech and language therapy. Others also note that they are working collaboratively with schools and local authorities to support the delivery of non-clinical support, and exploring how virtual tools like apps can be used to manage backlogs.”

Weighing in on the debate, the panel consisted of Matthew James, Director of Precision Rehab; Rachel Russel, Senior Regional Advisor for Foundations UK; Clare Barber, Professional Services Manager at Disabled Living Foundation (DLF); Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager at NRS Healthcare; James Bennett, Sales and Marketing Director at Care & Independence; and Nash Kumar, Director at Higher Elevation.

Facilitated by William Lee, Head of Policy and Compliance at the BHTA, the panel of experts debated a variety of pertinent issues relating to the rise in remote assessments, including the risk of overprescribing when doing video assessments, the value of its use a triage tool, and the question of the level of experience needed to effectively assess virtually.

Having adopted virtual assessments early into the COVID -19 lockdown, Higher Elevation’s Nash Kumar stressed the value that the technology could bring to clients.

“I believe by using the new technology we can serve our customers better and faster,” he noted.

“We had carried out virtual assessments during COVID-19 and it worked well regarding feasibility.”

Similarly embracing remote assessments during the height of the pandemic in 2020, specialist powerchair provider Precision Rehab’s Matthew James also acknowledged virtual assessments’ ability to triage, but emphasised its limitations for assessing clients with complex needs for equipment.

From her review of the research and evidence on remote assessments, Foundations UK’s Rachel Russel pointed out the importance for health and social care providers to start looking at how to better manage the increasing number of referrals.

“Using technology to support remote assessments is one way to address this,” she commented.

“Having the different perspectives at the roundtable was invaluable; for example, we discussed how remote assessments could improve integrated ways of working between health & social care and industry partners, improving outcomes for people – if done in the right way.”

Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager at NRS Healthcare, agreed the panel was effective at bringing together providers and assessors to share learnings and best-practice.

“OTs have needed to adapt their clinical practice significantly during the last two years of the pandemic, in order to meet the needs of service users in an ever-changing world,” she commented.

“As a clinical manager who supervises OTs, and who has also been undertaking assessments during the pandemic, it is vitally important that I understand new ways of working and how this can be applied within the health and social care sector going forward.

“The service user is at the centre of all that we do and we need to consider evidence-based practice in new learning that supports the quality of clinical assessments and their outcomes. I’m keen to ensure that we keep moving forward with the new knowledge and learning we’ve acquired around virtual assessments and that this continues to be applied at the front end of services.

“The event was very effective in bringing together assessors and providers to talk about the challenges and positives of virtual assessments for all stakeholders, and how we can work together to provide a holistic and standardised approach to both clinical interventions and end-user provision.”

Sharing Julie’s enthusiasm for ensuring new practices and ideas are not lost as services return to normality, DLF’s Clare Barber added: “Within health and social care, it can be a long process to embed new ways of working, especially where technology is involved, but COVID has accelerated this.

“Now we are seeing the end of restrictions, it is extremely important not to lose sight of the things we have learnt through conducting assessments via video and the benefits we have seen. We now need to work collaboratively to change and evolve ways of workings to meet not only government recommendations but also to help meet the need of our service users as proficiently and effectively as possible.”

Care & Independence’s James Bennett echoed the sentiment of embracing innovation, underlining the value of bringing different perspectives and parties together to highlight and scrutinise ideas.

“The topic for the roundtable is very current, here to stay and needs some clear-headed thinking on best ways of adoption and use,” he commented.

“Innovation does not exist in an echo chamber. It is imperative that the various strands of the industries have a chance to weigh in with their views so that all constituents are represented – service users/patients, equipment providers, charities, academia, manufacturers/ suppliers/ distributors and clinicians.

“Consensus is not always required to move towards improvement but a shared commitment is necessary and that can only come from understanding all the positions in the room. Getting a healthy mix in the room in the first place is the first step.”

The first of the BHTA roundtable web series is set to be launched this June, with five episodes in total. The series will be available to watch on-demand on the BHTA website and on AT Today.

Calvin Barnett, Head of Marketing and Communications, commented: “We are delighted to have been able to bring individuals with such different experiences and expertise in assistive technologies together to share their thoughts and insights. As the push towards closer integration continues, it is essential that parties across the broad spectrum of health and social care have the opportunity to discuss and debate issues and ideas, and we are excited that our roundtables will give professionals a platform to have these important conversations.”

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