Canadian researchers recently investigated the use of telehealth in delivering a self management program for stroke survivors and carers.
The findings – profiled below in the latest update from the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service ( PHC RIS) – will no doubt be of interest locally, given the increasing use of telehealth.
Telehealth: the pros and cons
Rachel Katterl writes:
From the middle of last year, people in regional, rural and outer metropolitan areas were able to undertake consultations with a health care provider via live video. Known as telehealth consultations, this initiative aims to remove some of the access barriers to health care in Australia.
A recent Canadian study aimed to explore the question of whether telehealth consultations are comparable to face-to-face health care service delivery.
Canada, which has similar health challenges to Australia, also faces difficulties with delivering services to people living in rural and remote regions of the country. Telehealth services are one way of providing equitable access to health services for rural and remote populations.
Moving on after Stroke (MOST), which is a group-based self-management program for stroke survivors and their caregivers, has been shown to facilitate improved community integration and positive health behaviours after stroke. Researchers from Ontario explored the experiences of rural and remote patients undertaking this program using telehealth technology.
In interviews with the participants, the positives and negatives of telehealth consultations were consistent with findings in previous research projects.
Positives included the ability to access otherwise unavailable services, general satisfaction with the videoconference style of delivery, and decreased travel time and costs. Some individuals reported a greater feeling of connectedness with group members compared to telephone based services.
However, the authors noted: “…given the opportunity, all the participants would have preferred face-to-face participation in their own community”.
This is due to MOST participants experiencing difficulties with subtle but important aspects of communication: body language, eye contact, gaze, gesture, and their ability to gauge and detect emotion. Audio lags also meant that some participants did not engage in conversations as they were concerned with “cutting off” other participants.
The findings of this study are consistent with previous research on the topic of patient experience of telehealth consultations.
This study highlights a number of important points.
Firstly, the technical aspects of videoconferencing, particularly good internet connection speeds and reliable connections, are critical for telehealth consultations as this will avoid visual and auditory lags in the signal. Achieving a high level of picture resolution is important to ensure that the finer aspects of interpersonal communication, such as facial expression, are clear to participants.
Secondly, while telehealth consultations are an important aspect of improving access to care, they will not replace traditional face-to-face consultations.
The importance of rapport building and the ‘therapeutic relationship’ should not be underestimated, and telehealth consultations may not always be appropriate. For example, for mental health issues, initial consultations may be undertaken face-to-face, with follow up consultations via telehealth means.
• Rachel Katterl is Research Associate, Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHC RIS)
Taylor DM, Stone SD, Huijbregts MP (2012). Remote participants’ experiences with a group based stroke self-management program using videoconference technology. Rural and Remote Health, 12, 1947.
This article, which can be accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22463728, features in the 12 April, 2012 edition of PHC RIS eBulletin, available at http://www.phcris.org.au/publications/ebulletin/index.php.
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