Telehealth services are now widely available to children and their families in rural and remote Queensland, thanks to an innovative research partnership between UQ and BUSHkids.
BUSHkids is a not-for-profit organisation that provides free allied health and education services to rural and remote families across Queensland.
In 2016, the organisation partnered with UQ’s Centre of Research Excellence in Telehealth on a three-year project to develop, trial and evaluate a telehealth framework to improve access for clients.
BUSHkids CEO Carlton Meyn said telehealth was an exciting new frontier for the organisation.
“It provides us with the opportunity
to use technology to supplement our
face-to-face services and reach more geographically isolated children,” he said.
Jessica Campbell – a full-time UQ PhD student sponsored by BUSHkids – was the academic project lead, supported by her principal advisors Professor Deborah Theodoros and Professor Trevor Russell from UQ’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and associate advisors Professor Nicole Gillespie and Dr Nicole Hartley from UQ Business School.
The research project had three stages, the first being a scoping study to identify existing telehealth innovations used to deliver multidisciplinary care to children in rural and remote communities.
The next stage was stakeholder consultation and needs analysis. The team spoke to BUSHkids clients, staff and community referrers to learn about their perceptions of telehealth and to see if and how telehealth could fill the gaps in BUSHkids’ services.
Campbell said BUSHkids then identified three telehealth models to trial and evaluate – a psychology service, a speech therapy service and a parent education service.
Based on the trials, Campbell and team developed recommendations and guidelines to help BUSHkids scale up and implement telehealth more broadly.
For the duration of the research, Campbell was embedded one day per week at BUSHkids’ Brisbane offices, where she collaborated with staff on the research design, data collection and evaluation.
“We determined the potential concerns and stopping blocks for each service and addressed those together,” she said.
“We also collaborated on tailored guidelines and training modules for staff to ensure they could deliver these services with confidence.”
Professor Gillespie said each team member brought a different focus to the project, leveraging their expertise and experience in business or allied health to deliver improved outcomes.
“As a change management and organisational trust expert, my role was helping Jess pinpoint the organisational change and stakeholder management needed for telehealth implementation to succeed,” Professor Gillespie said.
“Working as part of a multidisciplinary team enabled us to publish high-impact and comprehensive research that will help BUSHkids and many other health service organisations to understand how to complement their services with virtual service delivery."
According to BUSHkids CEO Carlton Meyn, the project was a resounding success.
“We went from providing six telehealth sessions across the organisation in 2016-17 to 487 sessions in 2018-19,” he said.
“All BUSHkids staff are now able to access training and facilities to provide telehealth sessions for children and families.”