Why telehealth is essential in workplace rehabilitation

Published on 30 Sep 2021

Prior to COVID-19 virtual care attendances, such as telehealth, accounted for only 0.1% of all Medicare Benefits Scheme funded attendances.

By 23 June 2020, 72,509 health care providers delivered 16.13 million telehealth services to 7.48 million patients.

  • Phase zero – Pre-COVID-19, little to no telehealth
  • Phase one – 2020, rapid roll out and adoption of telehealth
  • Phase two – 2021, the future of telehealth

Unlike medical services, allied health demand increased during the pandemic.

APM WorkCare alone closed 48% more same employer (where injured workers return to work for the same employer) cases and 7% more new employer (injured worker returns to work with different employer) cases in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Workplace rehabilitation services were deemed an essential service with the ongoing care of our clients a priority under any circumstance and ensuring ill and injured Australian got access to great care.

APM telehealth goals

  • Provide continuity of care and manage the risk profile of clients
  • Support clients through significant change
  • Build capacity and recovery in an uncertain and changing environment
  • Tailor solutions in a pandemic environment
  • Provide uninterrupted progress towards health and work outcomes
  • Continue to facilitate the Health Benefits of Good Work
  • Develop effective alternative services to support our customers

The risk profile of injured Australians was further exacerbated by the increase in psychosocial barriers caused by the pandemic:

Injured worker risk factors

  • Concerns about job and/or financial security driving fear and/or lack of trust with employer
  • Actual loss of job due to pandemic restrictions, reduced hours or reliance on Job Keeper payments, meaning the Health Benefits of Good Work were not being realised
  • Increased stress impacting anxiety, family, relationships
  • Social isolation/reduced social interaction and activity
  • Reduced physical activity and exercise with the closure of gyms and cessation of team sports and sporting events
  • Interruption to routine
  • Loss of sense of purpose
  • Injury regression due to lack of treatment or activity

Work environment risk factors

  • Workers displaced due to pandemic and restrictions e.g. travel, tourism, hospitality
  • Displaced workers seeking alternative employment facing reduced/impacted roles (e.g. casino worker, beautician) and competing against a larger pool of candidates.
  • Increased stress and pressure on businesses impacting on employer/employee relationships and workplace psychosocial risk factors

System risk factors

  • Insurers, agents and employers referring injured workers for intervention less due to
    • Adjusting themselves to working remotely and establishing their 'new normal' routine
    • Increased workload as they deal with pandemic impacts to their own business
    • Concern that due to restrictions, minimal successful intervention is able to occur
    • Perceiving injured workers may require reprieve from intervention due to the presenting environment

The factors listed above causes delays or even prevention of intervention, which decreases the chances of a successful outcome.

  • Virtual environment necessitates a certain level of technology literacy, access to technology, and is subject to technical errors/system performance. Can prevent access, cause difficulties with access or impact on the quality of intervention.

Communication and support risk factors

  • Reduced ability to build rapport with workers and employers
  • Inability to pick up on certain cues (environmental, personality, emotional) virtually when compared to face-to-face
  • Unable to conduct a thorough assessment (work site assessment, activities of daily living assessment, functional capacity evaluation, ergonomic assessment)

APM telehealth results

Does Telehealth have a place in the future of workplace rehabilitation?

The benefits of Telehealth:

  • Best available talent on the case, regardless of geography
  • Prompt service delivery, unimpacted by travel time or site access issues
  • Early intervention
  • Cost, time and resource efficiencies
  • Greater accessibility of care
  • Continuity of care
  • Better customer experience
  • Eliminate 'appointment fatigue'
  • Greater client understanding and accountability

Telehealth cannot fully replace in person intervention – but it will become another tool in our toolkit – and used to support improved outcomes for our clients whilst reducing costs for our customers.

A hybrid model is the answer.

The success of telehealth hinges on recognising that telehealth is a specific service type, and not simply replacing face to face intervention with phone or video modality.

When considering telehealth, engage a provider equipped to deliver effective telehealth services by considering:

  • Does the provider have tailored services under the telehealth banner?
  • Is your provider trained in the effective delivery of telehealth services?
  • What resources/supports are available for stakeholders?
  • How is the provider measuring the effectiveness of their service?
  • Is telehealth 'fit for purpose', or does it require more traditional methodologies?

Individual factors to consider when determining mode of service

  • Provider telehealth services, training, systems and level of expertise within telehealth
  • Best match expert/professional – regardless of location
  • Speed to serviceability; in-person versus virtual
  • Geographic location of client versus service provider
  • Virtual accessibility and technological capability
  • Client experience
  • Client communication skills
  • Importance of early intervention and continuity of care
  • Nature of the services required and case complexity
  • Stakeholder perceptions, personality factors and expectations

Speak to APM WorkCare today about developing a model of care tailored to your organisation or to refer, email workcare@apm.net.au or call 1300 967 522.

Download our whitepaper - Why telehealth is here to stay