BHTA assistive technology and virtual assessments roundtable image

Specialists involved in the assessment of assistive technologies dived deep into the topic of virtual assessments in the first of a five-part roundtable series.

Delivered by the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), the first webisode brought tougher a mix of healthcare and industry professionals to share their experiences of delivering assessments virtually.

Chaired by BHTA’s Head of Policy, Bill Lee, 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.

Held in London’s Tower Bridge hotel, the panel examined the factors driving the growth in virtual assessments. Interestingly, while the panel conceded that COVID-19 rapidly accelerated adoption, there were many services embracing virtual assessments as part of their triaging process.

Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager of NRS Healthcare, noted: “We started doing virtual assessments at the start of COVID, and the way that happened in February, when we were just about to go into lockdown, we had to act and think creatively. We had about a thousand patients that we needed to see across the country, and we didn’t want to stop that. They all had clinical needs that we needed to meet.

“We did a bit of research and discovered that the Highlands of Scotland are already using a platform called Attend Anywhere/Near Me.

“I managed the service on the Isle of Wight – the community occupational therapy service there. The NHS on the Isle of Wight purchased these Attend Anywhere/Near Me licenses for our staff as well as their staff, because, on the island, everything needs to be consistent. It’s no good having social care using one platform and the NHS using another.

“We started off, in NRS, piloting Attend Anywhere/Near Me, which is like a waiting room. All the patient needs on the other end is a gadget and a link, so they don’t need to download any fancy apps.

“We send them an email, we send them a letter of introduction, this is what’s going to happen. Then we say, can you rock up at nine o’clock and click this link? We let them into a waiting room. It’s very secure and end-to-end encrypted.

“It worked really well and people engaged with it perfectly.”

Internet connectivity was flagged as a potential barrier, particularly for those in more rural locations.

“The main problem we found when I asked my team for some feedback was that the Wi-Fi dropped out,” continued Julie. “The connections were always poor, so we never completed an assessment.”

The expert panel also discussed the challenges of technology adoption, as well as questioning whether education and training for healthcare professionals need to be updated to embrace digital technologies.

James Bennett, Sales and Marketing Director at Care & Independence, commented: “The clinicians that we serve, they are a fairly recalcitrant bunch. They weren’t entirely tech-savvy, and, as a community, they tended to be quite late adopters to technology.”

Rachel Russel, Senior Regional Advisor for Foundations UK, added: “In terms of the evidence base, when I did the lit review looking at research that’s looked at remote assessments, what’s interesting is because there is this concern that if you do the assessment remotely that you’ll miss something.

“There was one study that compared and contrasted face-to-face with a remote assessment (and that was a video remote assessment). What was interesting is the point: do we overprescribe? Actually the remote assessment, they picked up more on the assessment.”

Watch the first fascinating roundtable webisode here:

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