A.T. Still University’s (ATSU) Center for Occupational and Physical Therapy had to close its doors in March due to the coronavirus, but the students who run this clinic couldn’t sit idly by, waiting for it to one day reopen. Instead, they took matters into their own hands to resume virtual care for their existing patients and developed a telehealth program.
The pro-bono clinic offers opportunities for occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) students to gain hands-on experience with patients. While an ATSU faculty member supervises each session, students lead the appointment.
The idea of telehealth required research and consideration of logistics by faculty members and students, as well as establishing procedures for securing connections through Zoom.
“The way we have been doing it is the student and faculty member will be on campus together so they are in the same room,” Isabelle Courtois, OT, ’21, said. “That way, if there is any internet failure or anything like that, the student wouldn’t be left with the patient by themselves on Zoom.”
The clinic is equipped with webcams in every room, allowing students to utilize exam room equipment for demonstrations.
“When you are training an exercise program, it’s helpful to be able to do it in the lab where we have the beds and have the equipment to explain it with good form,” Kara Gore, OTD, ’22, said.
Many healthcare professionals have been forced to adopt telehealth during the pandemic. For the clinic, telehealth has added value to the practice and is something Tania Shearon, MOT, CHT, PYT-C, assistant professor, ATSU-ASHS, hopes will continue after in-person visits resume.
“What I really like and what I see as a great benefit of telehealth is there are times when, yes, I really want to be face to face and I think that it’s necessary, but there are other times when it is better for me to see my patient in her home, doing that follow-up exercise or activity and really get a sense of how she is doing it without me being there,” Shearon said.
Shearon, Gore, and Carol Gavilan, OT, ’21, recently presented virtually at the Arizona OT Association (ArizOTA) special interest section meeting, sharing protocols and procedures for ensuring a secure and safe telehealth experience. This includes the patient confirming their physical address in case the student or faculty member sees the patient is in distress and needs to contact emergency services. That tip was well received by those in attendance.
The students are proud of the efforts they’ve made to keep the clinic open during these unprecedented times. They strive to uphold the vision of Jim Farris, PT, PhD, associate dean, ATSU-College of Graduate Health Studies, who helped the clinic come to fruition after years of research and planning.
“This clinic has exceeded expectations, and we have a lot of great people supporting us,” Gore said. “I think everyone is wanting what is best for the clinic. We don’t really take shortcuts; we are constantly helping each other out.”
Come January 2021, the clinic hopes to resume in-person visits. With the potential of offering telehealth in addition to traditional appointments, the hope is to continue to eliminate barriers for patients.
“Telehealth opens more doors to what kind of population we can see, not having to turn away people due to transportation issues or ambulation issues,” Gore said. “We are having so many positive outcomes. Telehealth has provided the perfect opportunity for us to be able to return to work with the members in our community.”