Occupational Therapists lead testing of virtual home visits

Occupational Therapists at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have been testing the use of mobile technology to conduct ‘remote’ home visits with patients who are still in hospital.

Therapists from the hospital have been collaborating with the University of Sheffield to research the technology to facilitate visits in circumstances where it is difficult to conduct a visit in person with the patient. This might be because the patient is too unwell, can’t access the house or lives too far away.

In these circumstances, the Virtual Visit Approach, or ‘ViVA’, enables the visit to be done remotely instead. It works by using software that allows a trusted visitor, such as a relative or community health worker, who does have access to property, to link up with the therapist via a text message or email. The visitor can then walk around the house showing them every room, taking measurements and discussing the layout. The therapist can see real-time images and video and make notes. The remote visit can be observed by the patient in hospital, and their ability to manage at home and support requirements discussed with the therapist. This can help to prepare them for returning home and facilitate discussion about what equipment or adaptations might be needed to support them.

Work to develop ViVA first began in 2016 and there have been three projects so far. Further research to build on the technology and examine its use in other setting such as Speech and Language Therapy, Physiotherapy and Dietetics is now needed.

The work has been published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.


Laura Evans, Head of Occupational Therapy at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “We are pleased to be able to share this research at a time when the potential of digital innovation is really being highlighted. Technology such as this can help to create clinical efficiencies and benefit patients by reducing unnecessary travel and hospital visits, and facilitate improved patient input into discharge planning by enabling them to be involved when they may not have been able to take part in a physical visit.”

Natalie Jones, Clinical Academic Occupational Therapist said: “We have expanded our knowledge on deployment of digital innovation in the NHS, we have started new collaborations nationally and internationally, written bids for research funding and had the opportunity to develop this technology which we feel can enhance occupational therapy practice in the future.

“The next project will also include other health professionals such as dieticians, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists delivering remote consultations as well as home assessments.”

Jennifer Read, Clinical Researcher and Occupational Therapist at the University of Sheffield, said: “The opportunity to work with clinicians at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals to develop ViVA is invaluable. It has created opportunities for the university to understand the clinical world and for NHS staff to gain research experience and skills. The project helped us create and develop a skilled team that has gone on to gain funding and undertake new ViVA projects. It is very exciting.”

 The research is available to read online at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0308022620921111

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