Telehealth in school-based practice: Perceived viability to bridge global OT practitioner shortages prior to COVID-19 global health emergency

This article was originally published here

Work. 2020 Sep 6. doi: 10.3233/WOR-203240. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: Prior to the COVID-19 global health emergency, telehealth was an emerging occupational therapy (OT) service delivery model possessing many positive attributes. These include the potential to offset well-documented global occupational therapy practitioner (OTP) shortages. However, wide-spread adoption of telehealth as a delivery model in school-based practice is lacking in the OT evidence literature. While the COVID-19 global health emergency propelled many OTPs into the use of telehealth technologies, in some cases with minimal preparation, an investigation was conducted into the likelihood of telehealth adoption when comprehensive training was provided so that appropriateness of student fit for telehealth could be determined and essential planning could take place.

OBJECTIVE: Prior to the COVID-19 global health emergency, a comprehensive training program was developed incorporating detailed perceptions of OTPs experienced in and new to telehealth in school-based practice as measured via surveys with the goal of increasing adoption of telehealth technologies for the delivery of OT services. Following the completion of the online New to Telehealth Pre-training survey, OTPs new to telehealth were invited to complete the OT Telehealth Primer: School-based Practice training program. Analysis of pre- and post-training surveys yielded information about attitudinal changes experienced post-training.

METHODS: Prior to the COVID-19 global health emergency, school-based occupational therapy practitioners (OTP) experienced in telehealth were invited to complete a survey exploring benefits and barriers encountered in the delivery of OT services using telehealth. OTPs new-to-telehealth were invited to complete a different survey intended to explore attitudes about the potential use of telehealth. Data collected from both surveys were used to develop a comprehensive training program, The OT Telehealth Primer for School-based Practice. OTPs new-to-telehealth were invited to complete the training program and a post-training survey. A descriptive data analysis was completed on responses from pre- to post-training surveys and the chi-square test of independence was used to evaluate difference in reported likelihood of adopting telehealth into practice before and after training.

RESULTS: Prior to the COVID-19 global health emergency, the top benefits identified by the OTP Experienced telehealth-user survey included: 1) service access, 2) collaboration and carry-over with team members, 3) efficiency themes, and4) student engagement and comfort. Top benefits identified by the OTP New to Telehealth survey identified the same top benefits after participating in the training program. A significant decrease in perceived barriers was noted in scores from pre- to post-training by OTPs new to telehealth. The perceived barriers that did not significantly decrease post-training suggest the need for future education and future protocol development. These included: unreliable internet, lack of hands-on opportunity and e-helpers’ (parent, caregiver or support system available to assist the student in person during a telehealth session) decreased comfort with technology. After completing the training program, 80% of participants reported being likely to add telehealth as a delivery model for future OT practice.

CONCLUSIONS: Prior to the COVID-19 global health emergency, completion of the comprehensive training program OT Telehealth Primer: School-based Practice program yielded improved perceived benefits and an increased likelihood of telehealth adoption into practice by OTPs. However, both OTPs and school administrators require ongoing education for successful widespread adoption to be achieved thus offsetting the global shortage of OTPs and increasing service access. Future research, particularly related to available training and support for the rapid adoption of telehealth technologies during the COVID-19 global health emergency, will yield helpful information about the likelihood of continued use of telehealth in practice.

PMID:32925151 | DOI:10.3233/WOR-203240