Therapy Connect using telehealth to deliver allied health services – Farm Weekly

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Simone Dudley’s entire life, including her business as an occupational therapist, completely changed the day her property was connected with high-speed internet.

In 2015, she and speech pathologist Sue Cameron formed Therapy Connect, a dedicated telehealth practice providing allied health support predominantly to children and families with disabilities on the NDIS scheme.

“We just felt that with the NBN and NDIS rolling out back in 2015 that there was such a great potential to harness the telehealth capability to increase access to services for clients,” Ms Dudley said.

Since then Therapy Connect has grown into a business with more than 60 allied health practitioners offering psychology, speech, occupational, nutritional and physiotherapy sessions.

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The business was ahead of the game when it came to the rapid increase in video conferencing as a result of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Ms Dudley runs her practice from the family farm, nestled among the Murray River red gum forest outside Deniliquin in New South Wales’ Riverina region.

Together with her husband Bill, they have raised three children while managing their mixed cattle and cropping enterprise.

Ms Dudley said geographic barriers, lack of choice, long wait lists and limited access often impacted people’s ability to access support services.

We describe ourselves as a technology enabled business. – Simone Dudley

And although she and Ms Cameron had rural and remote clients in mind when they established the service, the demand for telehealth options has seen their reach grow across Australia and into Asia.

“We really had that in mind when we started but the honest truth is families in metro or semi-urban regions often experience the same level of disadvantage as rural and remote families do,” Ms Dudley said.

“Often rural and remote people lead the way with innovation and I think this is an example where rural and remote practitioners are leading the way to find solutions for people like us but also metro consumers have the benefit of the service delivery model.”

Ms Dudley said they participated in research with the University of Sydney to help identify components of the telehealth model that were evidence based and used this to underpin and inform their business.

“We had our model and our idea really early on and clinically we knew we were right, what we really lacked was a lot of the business help,” she said.

They continue to use technology to drive their business decisions, working with a business adviser and a data scientist.

Ms Dudley said in a traditional model, clients often don’t have a choice in practitioner, it is about the next available place.

Instead, Therapy Connect uses data to ensure clients are matched with a clinician that suits their needs and is also available at a convenient time. This also has positive benefits for clinicians as it means they are operating within their skillset.

“We describe ourselves as a technology enabled business,” she said.

Last month NBN released its Small Business Digital Update with the study conducted by emerging technology analyst firm, Telsyte.

“The small and medium business community understand the importance of digital technologies, however our survey found that less than half have a digital strategy,” Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said.

“It highlights an opportunity to provide businesses with visibility around technology investments that had substantial financial and non-financial impact for small and medium businesses to help them adopt technology more strategically.”

The report found 81 per cent of small and medium businesses said ‘video conferencing technology had a good to substantial impact on financial KPIs’.

When assessing the impact of technologies on non-fancial KPIs, video conferencing also came out on top.

While Therapy Connect is one of the success stories, 38pc of small and medium businesses don’t think they are adopting technology strategically and only 44pc have a digital strategy.

Ms Dudley said as a business owner she could see the potential connectivity offered to both access and deliver services. She is connected via an NBN satellite internet service.

As soon as I had NBN connected on the farm, my entire life changed. – Simone Dudley

“Pre-NBN I had to travel half an hour into Deniliquin to have enough connectivity to access client work,” she said.

“As soon as I had NBN connected on the farm, my entire life changed.

“Now I was able to work from home, I didn’t have to schedule appointments factoring in the commute time; you could convert all that travel time into other activities.”

In the early days of the NBN rollout the challenges were ‘fairly significant’.

“We were working in really remote locations where connectivity was a constant struggle,” Ms Dudley said.

“As it was rolling out it became less and less a conversation point.”

Ms Dudley said the strength of the connection clients and practitioners had was variable but in the main, very few sessions are ever cancelled due to connectivity.

“It’s not anywhere near an issue as people might imagine.”

The story How Australia’s allied health delivery is changing first appeared on Farm Online.

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