The digitisation of occupational therapy

Remote consultations could help streamline home assessments and allowed for faster hospital discharge, finds new data. 

Carried out by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the study also showed virtual home visits to be extremely efficient in terms of freeing up staff time for other care.

Plus, relatives and family members of the service user were able to get involved with the assessment process without having to travel. 

Home visits are carried out by occupational therapists to help patients settle back into ‘everyday life’ as seamlessly as possible following an injury or illness such as a fall. This typically involves making adaptions to the patient’s home as to make it more accessible.

On the other hand, researchers also noted some downfalls to virtual assessments, such as internet stability, digital exclusion and the risk that certain environmental hazards could be missed if in-person visits were to become completely obsolete. 

Vitaveska Lanfranchi, Senior Lecturer in Medical Computing from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, who helped design and evaluate the prototype virtual home assessment tool, said: “Telehealth technology can support efficient and effective healthcare. It can enable people to be more involved in their consultations, and in managing their health. Our guidelines were informed by the experience of service users and professionals. We hope they will guide the development of home assessment tools.”

Natalie Jones, Clinical Academic Occupational Therapist, and principal investigator of the study, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There has been a rapid increase in the use of technology and virtual home assessments in the last few years, in part accelerated by the pandemic. Although this study was undertaken prior to Covid, our findings provide a vital picture of how virtual home assessments are used, what public perceptions are and what barriers to implementation can be. We hope this insight will support future studies and enable clinicians to consider the advantages and challenges of using the technology in this way.

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