Welcome to Therapy Connect Conversations. Today, we’re talking to Simone Dudley, who is an Occupational Therapist, and Sue Cameron, who is a Speech Therapist, both are owners of Therapy Connect. We’re talking about the growing challenge of long waiting lists for NDIS clients and solutions that can help get those clients accessing therapy and achieving their goals sooner.

Q. Would you like to start us off by telling us what are you seeing and hearing in terms of waiting lists for NDIS clients?

Simone Dudley: For speech and occupational therapy in some regions the wait lists can be really long, even up to nine months. And that’s really tough for clients. Sometimes there are low numbers of providers in a region, other times the providers that are there are just so busy, as there is there’s so much work. You can imagine what a problem long waitlists are for consumers that are trying to access allied health services and having to wait waiting up to 9 months. 

Q. And so you’re talking to clients every single day about this issue as well, so can you tell us what are some of the risks faced by clients who are on long waiting lists, even up to nine months, as Simone said?

Sue Cameron: Well, actually the big risk is that they might have an NDIS plan and not have any opportunity to connect with any services for the whole 12 month period of the plan and we hear about this happening at times. We also all know how important it is to have early intervention services in place. We know we need to identify children with disabilities early, and then we need to get therapy supports going for them as soon as we can. Often families have just been through the harrowing experience of having to go through a diagnosis then when they go to seek the services that they need for their child, they can’t get what they need.  Sometimes we also hear from families that they have their NDIS plan budgets reduced if they cannot evidence using services in the past plan year. If they haven’t had the opportunity to spend any of their funds, then their budget might be reduced for the next 12 month period. At the very least, they need to have review reports from their allied health practitioner to provide the evidence that they need to have some ongoing therapy and intervention.

Q. Simone, we know that telehealth is the perfect solution and Therapy Connect was one of the first allied health practices to go virtual and deliver telehealth and video health in Australia. Tell us though, for the people who are the laggards of the technology, or are a bit more hesitant or slower to get on board with it, why do you think some of them have got a bit of hesitation when it comes to giving telehealth a go?

Simone Dudley: Well, I guess the first question often we hear is, “Does it work? Does telehealth actually work?” And certainly we know through our research and through the research of others, that telehealth does work, and we need to understand what enables a successful telehealth model. By accepting that there’s evidence we can move to supporting an effective and quality telehealth experience for consumers.

It can be really hard to conceptualize how sessions look through telehealth for different disciplines of service. You might easily understand how speech and psychology services can be delivered, but the more manual interventions such as occupational therapy or physiotherapy are more difficult. We need to help people visualise how sessions will look for them. 

I think lastly, of course, it’s digital literacy. It’s the confidence to manage the technology for those that haven’t yet used video conferencing, that being able to have some support around how to use the device, how to connect and maybe some of the basics of what to do if something were to go wrong.

Q. And how much of that is about confidence?

Simone Dudley: Well, it is so much about confidence. And I can assure you that if Sue and I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s just about having a go.

Q. And Sue, so when people do muster up the courage and they get themselves set up and they try telehealth for the first time, what are some of the things they say to you? What do you often hear as people’s reaction?

Sue Cameron: Well, people tell us that they’re a bit nervous sometimes, if it’s the first time that they’re having a telehealth experience. It’s amazing how quickly they soon forget about the technology though. Once you’re sitting there talking to someone and having a conversation, and you’ve got your therapy session going, you soon forget all about the technology, really. It’s just like having a conversation in the room, I suppose. Fortunately, we’re finding now that more and more people have had telehealth experiences since COVID-19. People find that this is the normal way of interacting these days. A lot of our clients are young and they’re tech savvy and they make great suggestions that help us to have a better session. We try to make sure that our families are really well prepared and they know what to expect, so that will alleviate some of their anxiety about it.

The feedback we get from the families we work with is that it’s a great way of doing therapy and that they feel much more confident about being able to help their children after they’ve been involved in our teletherapy sessions. The practitioners tell us that the families are much more engaged with therapy, sometimes more in teletherapy sessions than they would be in the clinic as the families have to be engaged and they become the therapist, really, for their child. We really rely on families helping in the sessions. That’s very empowering for families as well.

Q. And Simone… So you mentioned before that all different types of therapies can be delivered over telehealth. Can you just go into one of the more manual examples being physio, and just tell us, on a normal sort of day-to-day-type physio telehealth session, what would that actually look like?

Simone Dudley: Well, it might surprise you that it looks a lot like a session would look like if you were in clinic. For physio and OT and speech and psychology and dietetics, we will work with all of our clients offering these services.  We conduct assessment as well as intervention. I guess the first step for the physio or for the OTs, is to gather information and conduct an assessment, and determine what the client’s goals are. And then it’s about adapting into how you will deliver the supports needed in order to achieve the goals. Sometimes that might mean the physio will need to demonstrate. They might need to send information. They might use visual media, they might have equipment at their end and have some resources at the client’s end that are required.

This evidences the level of problem solving that practitioners need in order to adapt really effectively to deliver their interventions. That adaptation is one of the key differences in a telehealth model. The practitioner has the expert knowledge in order to adapt interventions to support the client that they’re working with, and customize that experience through telehealth so that every service might look different.

Q. For people who get a bit stuck in their first session when they’re using telehealth, what do you do at Therapy Connects that helps them get connected and get the most out of their session?

Sue Cameron: Well, we’ve chosen a really easy video conferencing platform for families to use, so they don’t have to have an account. They can just have one click on the bottom of our email signature to join our meeting. It’s the same meeting number every time, so they can go to any of our emails that they’ve ever received from us, and they’ll be able to click on and join our link really quickly. We don’t wait very long to see if clients are going to come. If they are not there within a couple of minutes after the start, then we would call them straight away and offer to help them. So often you’ll find that they are trying to connect to you and you’re trying to connect to them, and really you just need to get on the telephone and help them and problem solve with them to quickly get sorted.

Sometimes… We work with some families who are very remote and may not have an internet connection. They may not have an email address. They may not have a device. We’ve been able to help them to access devices sometimes through their NDIS plan, especially since COVID. We also have to problem solve each situation. It might be that they have a relative or a friend that can lend them a computer or that they might have a support coordinator that can help them in their first session, so that they feel much more confident about participating in telehealth.

Q. Simone, for people who are thinking, “Oh, I’m still a bit not sure. I’m a client or I’m a referral source.” What would you say to them, those people that are thinking, “Look, face to face is my preferred, and that’s the only way for me.” What would you say to those people?

Simone Dudley: Well, it’s all about choice, isn’t it? I guess what I would say is, that absolutely, it’s the consumer choice. If however, there was a really long wait list, why not remain on the wait list and consider telehealth as an additional option? If you were proposing telehealth as an option, I would lead the conversation with, “What does the evidence say? Is it effective? Yes, we know it is.” This may build the confidence.  With an experienced provider should be able to support the journey of that client through the telehealth experience and have every bit as good an outcome as if they were in person. Certainly that’s our experience. It’s easy, it works, and we help our clients. These are the three messages that we would like to share.

Q. If people listening would like to find out more or to get in touch with you or Simone, what’s the best way for them to get in contact?

Sue Cameron: Sure. So we are very lucky that we’re able to recruit from all around Australia. So we don’t have wait lists most of the time. But families can visit our website at www.therapyconnect.com.au. The easiest way to make a referral is to fill in a registration form on our website, or people can phone our 1300 number. So it’s 1300-757-806, and they can talk to our client services team. 

Well, we want you to be connected up and helping as many people as possible, because it’s wonderful, the work that you do. Thank you both so much for taking the time to explain more about telehealth and demystify it a bit. And I hope this has encouraged people to give it a go and jump off that waiting list and get the help they need sooner.  So thank you Sue and Simone.