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Healthcare & industry experts consider the role of virtual assessments at BHTA roundtable

BHTA Roundtable shines a spotlight on virtual assessments in the wake of COVID-19

A panel of experts from member companies and influential bodies, including DLF and Foundations, came together to examine the role of virtual assessments in the wake of COVID-19 at the first of a new roundtable series from the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA).

Six specialists involved in the assessing and prescribing of assistive technologies gathered at the iconic Tower Hotel in February to share their insights into the acceleration of remote assessments and shine a spotlight on the challenges and opportunities facing health and care providers. 

It follows the rapid adoption of virtual assessments by public and private providers of assistive technologies during the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. With many service users still in need of assessment, organisations embraced remote assessments as a means to keep services going while also keeping staff and clients as safe as possible.

Now, with the health and care system facing a significant community services care backlog, providers are asking what role virtual assessments may have to play to help tackle growing caseloads.

According to the ‘The Hidden Waits’ briefing document released earlier this month by Community Network, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) data from January 2022 estimates that over 900,000 children and adults are waiting for services as part of a community services care backlog.

In the publication, Community Network notes that: “Community providers are also using new virtual tools and technologies to see as many patients as possible in a timely way. For instance, using digital technologies, such as virtual consultations for children’s speech and language therapy.”

The panel of experts consisted of Clare Barber, Professional Services Manager at DLF; James Bennett, Sales and Marketing Director at Care & Independence; Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager at NRS Healthcare; Matthew James, Director of Precision Rehab; Nash Kumar, Director at Higher Elevation; and Rachel Russell, Senior Regional Advisor for Foundations UK.

Facilitated by William Lee, Head of Policy and Compliance at the BHTA, the panel of experts discussed issues including the risk of overprescribing when doing virtual assessments, the value of its use as a triage tool, and the question of the level of experience needed to effectively assess virtually.

(From left: Precision Rehab’s Matthew James; Higher Elevation’s Nash Kumar, Care & Independence’s James Bennett, NRS Healthcare’s Julie Blake, Foundations UK’s Rachel Russell, and DLF’s Clare Barber)

The session was professionally filmed on location and will now be produced into a series of webisodes, which will be released over June on the BHTA website, as well as across its media channels: THIIS and AT Today.

Discussing taking part in the roundtable, Rachel Russell, Senior Regional Advisor for Foundations UK, commented: “Overall, I found the roundtable event insightful and thought-provoking. I attended the session because I felt I had something to contribute, given the knowledge I’ve gained from reviewing the research and evidence based around remote assessments.”

She continued: “Having the different perspectives at the roundtable was invaluable; for example, we discussed how remote assessments could improve integrated ways of working between health and social care and industry partners, improving outcomes for people – if done in the right way.”

Julie Blake, Senior Clinical Manager at NRS Healthcare, agreed the panel was effective at bringing together providers and assessors to share learnings and best-practice.

“The event was very effective in bringing together assessors and providers to talk about the challenges and positives of virtual assessments for all stakeholders, and how we can work together to provide a holistic and standardised approach to both clinical interventions and end-user provision,” she said.

Echoing Rachel and Julie’s remarks, Clare Barber, Professional Services Manager at DLF, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the first BHTA roundtable event about video assessments. The session started well with lots of interesting debate based on experiences pre and post-pandemic. There was a good range of representation from the industry including both clinical and commercial representatives and I felt everyone has taken away something useful from the event.”

She added: “The roundtable brought perspectives from a range of backgrounds giving a really well-rounded discussion. It was honest, open, surprising, and inspirational to hear the experiences of the people around the table and what they can bring to the new ways of working. Well done BHTA for such an important discussion and I hope that it inspires people to keep talking.”

The sentiment regarding the value of the roundtable was shared by those from a background in the industry, with moving and handling equipment supplier Care & Independence’s James Bennett emphasising that bringing different perspectives together is key to embracing innovation.

“The topic for the roundtable is very current, here to stay and needs some clear-headed thinking on best ways of adoption and use,” he commented.

“Innovation does not exist in an echo chamber. It is imperative that the various strands of the industries have a chance to weigh in with their views so that all constituents are represented – service users/patients, equipment providers, charities, academia, manufacturers/ suppliers/ distributors and clinicians.

“Consensus is not always required to move towards improvement but a shared commitment is necessary and that can only come from understanding all the positions in the room. Getting a healthy mix in the room in the first place is the first step.”

Nash Kumar, Director at stairlift and access specialist Higher Elevation, also underlined the value of sitting around a table to hear and learn from different ideas and experiences.

“This space will become bigger and we need to make sure we can harness the positive things in order to serve and help our customers. By discussing this now, we may be able to list some dos and don’ts to help the staff/end-user,” he said.

“Bringing different perspectives to the table was where the magic and knowledge from different sectors really shone through. As a mobility company, we are normally looking at the staircase or access for wheelchairs. Different parties can be looking at the whole home, outside help, body posture and so on, so by listening to each other, we learn about all the different touchpoints with our customers that need to be considered in order to deliver the great service we carry out.”

Matthew James, Director of powerchair specialist Precision Rehab, finished: “I thought the event was very successful, and the six panellists including myself were all from different backgrounds and supplied different products and services. This made everyone’s points of view mixed and interesting.”

He added: “It was great and vital to have different perspectives from six panellists with different backgrounds, as we all had different ideas and different skillsets and used video assessment in different ways, and I feel we all learned a few new areas to improve the way we worked.”

Calvin Barnett, Head of Marketing and Communications at BHTA, commented: “The roundtable proved to be a fantastic platform to have professionals with such different experiences in assistive technologies share their thoughts and expertise on this topic.

“With integration high up the agenda, it is essential that those working in the health and social care arena have a forum to discuss, debate and share issues and ideas. As the trade association that represents ethical companies operating in this space, BHTA is uniquely placed to bring different organisations together to do this, and we are excited that our roundtables will give a space for these important conversations to take place.”

The first of the BHTA Roundtable web series is set to be launched this June, with five episodes in total.