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Providing essential physio service online

In this Following Up feature we reconnect with Karla Andrews who has responded to COVID-19 by taking her in-home physiotherapy service online

When GuelphToday first connected with Karla Andrews in the fall of 2017 she told us about her in-home physiotherapy service and her work with seniors and Parkinson’s patients.

Andrews In-Home Physiotherapy, as the name suggests, brings physio services to the comfort of people’s homes but recent isolation and social distancing measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced her to expand on an online service she developed specifically for clients in remote or underserved areas.

“I started testing the waters using this platform to provide physiotherapy services and consultations last year for people who weren’t able to connect with a physiotherapist in their area who had a special interest in Parkinson’s,” said Andrews. “The furthest client I have is up in Geraldton. That’s about three hours northeast of Thunder Bay.”

The online service allows clients to ask and respond to questions about their condition and provides the physiotherapist with visual information about the client’s health and home surroundings.

“There is quite a bit that can be accomplished through a video conferencing session,” she said. “Often I will be consulting with the client who has the condition as well as their spouse or a son or a daughter that is helping them out and is part of the consult.”

The family member can be an extension of Andrews’ eyes, ears and hands.

“If they have a tablet with them or a laptop they can kind of walk me through the house and maybe describe any problem areas,” said Andrews. “In the case of that gentleman in Geraldton it has worked out well. I have done the sessions with his wife and his daughter. Going through exercises and answering all sorts of questions about a myriad of things related to Parkinson’s management.”

The online service is the next best thing to being there especially when issues of distance or some other circumstance such as a pandemic prevent her from making in-person house calls.

“Normally I go into people’s home or I go into retirement homes or long-term care and I can’t now for everybody’s health and safety,” said Andrews. “I thought, you know what, I was kind of starting to do this already, specifically for Parkinson’s clients, but let’s open it up and see what other clients can benefit from this. It’s not going to be for everyone. It is still a type of in-home therapy but with a little bit of a twist.”

The online physio sessions and consultations are performed in accordance with regulated medical and professional standards as well as privacy legislation.

“You can’t offer these services just on Facetime or Skype because that is an unsecured network,” said Andrews. “Typically, I would make an appointment in advance. I send them an email with a link that takes you into the virtual waiting room. I can see that you are online and start the call.”

It is the only option her physiotherapy clients have while the pandemic restrictions are in place.

“I am not seeing any of my clients in their homes as of today,” she said. “I am not allowed to go into any retirement homes now. Even family members can’t go in. I am just starting to make people aware that this is an option. I am reaching out to my existing clients that I would normally see in retirement homes or in their homes and tell them we can do an online session if you like.”

Andrews is hopeful that she will be able to return to in-house, hands-on physiotherapy services soon but until then she is ready to adapt this service, designed for people in remote areas, to treating people who are normally only an arm’s length away.

“This kind of work hasn’t been the bulk of my practice but right now we can’t actively treat patients and be with them,” said Andrews. “We are adopting social distancing measures for everyone’s safety, so we are looking at other ways to provide care. The clients I have worked with in Northern Ontario have found it extremely helpful, easy to access, and you can get quite a lot accomplished. It can be an effective way to deliver services for some people.”