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What skills and capabilities do clinicians need before delivering tele- and virtual-health?

4 May 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

Tele- and virtual-health is often celebrated for its ease and simplicity, but as Gail Forrest, Associate Director, Clinical Education Strategy at the Health Education and Training Institute (HETI) reveals, the practice may be more nuanced than it appears at first glance.

Ms Forrest and team have spent the last two years analysing insights from healthcare providers, consumers and the literature to devise Australia’s first Virtual Care Education Framework for NSW Health. She says a wide range of educational capabilities are required to deliver virtual care safely and effectively, many of which involve adaptations from traditional clinical practice.

“Our research has revealed 58 educational capabilities across seven domains of practice that aim to ensure best practice in virtual healthcare delivery. So, there is quite a bit of complexity involved and it is certainly not as simple as just picking up a phone or switching on a computer,” she told Informa Connect.

“For example, there are important considerations around privacy that need to be met in virtual care and these aren’t necessarily intuitive. Clinicians need to preface each consultation with privacy and confidentiality guidelines and consider that patients who are having consultations in their home may be in the earshot of others. If the clinician is at home, they also need to protect their own privacy and ensure sensitive items, like family photographs, are not visible in the background.”

Much like the virtual health use-cases they were designed for, the educational capabilities Ms Forrest and team devised are wide ranging. Alongside privacy and confidentiality, interprofessional collaboration is a key focus of the framework.

“In a virtual environment, collaboration can look quite different. For example, if a patient becomes acutely unwell in a metropolitan hospital site, you might press a buzzer and a team of practitioners respond. In a remote or rural setting however, it might be a specialist responding virtually who fulfils the same function. Clearly, the latter scenario requires different capabilities; and it is important virtual healthcare providers know best practice in this situation.”

Communication is another important focus area for clinicians who deliver care in the virtual realm. While clinicians are already trained and skilled in communication, Ms Forrest notes that specific techniques are needed for virtual health.

“Virtual care requires clinicians to apply different communication strategies than they might be used to deploying in their in-person consultations. They may need to find ways to build a rapport and create trust between themselves and the patient, for example encouraging patients to switch their camera on during a virtual appointment.”

Communication capabilities aren’t restricted to clinical activities and are also needed in everyday conversations surrounding virtual healthcare, Ms Forrest says.

“Clinicians need to build positive messaging around virtual care. Ultimately, tele- and virtual-health is about making healthcare more accessible. It’s neither a replacement for face-to-face care; nor a crutch for workforce shortages. It’s important these benefits are relayed effectively to patients and peers to build confidence around the use of technology to enhance healthcare.”

Ms Forrest says the framework provides the high level education principles needed to navigate virtual care delivery safely and with confidence. The framework can assist universities, TAFEs, local health districts and anyone involved in developing education and training to incorporate best practice virtual care principles.

“The Framework can inform a diverse range of multidisciplinary curricula for virtual health. The capabilities can also be used as a professional development guide and assist clinicians in identifying their own individual strengths and weaknesses.

“Because the framework is available publicly, it can also give confidence to consumers and their families, identifying standards of practice expected of NSW Health’s clinicians when providing virtual care,” she concluded.

Read more about the Virtual Care Education Framework and state-wide research on the HETI website.

About HETI

The Health Education and Training Institute (HETI) supports more than 110,000 clinical and non-clinical staff, trainers, managers and leaders across the NSW health system with its portfolio of training and education programs.

Working closely with Local Health Districts, Specialty Health Networks, health professionals and other public health organisations across NSW, HETI ensures its content is relevant and responsive to clinician and patient needs. Person-centred care and inter-professional practice are at the heart of each program.

HETI was a proud sponsor of this year’s National Telehealth Conference, which featured insights from the likes of NSW Ministry of Health, RACGP and the University of Sydney. Register your interest in next year’s event here.

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