Introduction Telehealth was rapidly adopted in musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a unique opportunity to evaluate the experiences and attitudes of people would not usually engage with these services.
Materials and Methods A sequential mixed-methods study recruited people with musculoskeletal pain conditions accessing private practice physiotherapist services in Australia. Participants completed an online survey of telehealth services accessed, treatments, self-reported global change in condition, and attitudes toward telehealth. A subset of survey participants completed semi-structured interviews to explore experiences and attitudes towards telehealth. Data was summarized descriptively (quantitative), analyzed using inductive thematic analysis (qualitative), and integrated facilitating deeper understanding.
Results 172 participants responded to the survey and 19 were interviewed. 95% accessed video-based telehealth, typically via zoom; and 85% reported improvement in their condition. 84% agreed it was an efficient use of time, 75% agreed it was financially viable, and 73% agreed their condition was accurately diagnosed. 62% percent believed telehealth should be less expensive than face-to-face services. Qualitative analysis revealed four themes (17 subthemes), including (i) value of telehealth; (ii) challenges; (iii) advantages; and (iv) use of technology to support patient experience.
Conclusion Australians with musculoskeletal pain conditions accessing physiotherapy via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic felt this care was valuable, although less so than traditional face-to-face care. Key challenges included the perception that lack of physical contact prevented accurate assessment, diagnosis and ‘hands on’ treatment, and requirements for technology to facilitate a quality service. Advantages included access to expert care and convenience.
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