Frequently Asked Questions

Practice Support and Telehealth

Allied health professionals in health and community services play a vital role in supporting the health and wellbeing of the people in our communities. As such, OTA, Federal and State & Territory Governments all consider occupational therapy services as essential.  In these circumstances we advise you to continue to work within your scope of practice whilst implementing the highest possible health and safety measures for your staff, yourselves, your clients and the community at large.

We ask that you continually conduct and update risk assessments, utilise telehealth where you are able to, stay abreast of how COVID-19 is escalating in your area, and heed any changes to instructions from the Department of Health. For example, some restrictions apply to direct face to face therapy where the Government infection prevention measures cannot be applied (e.g. driving assessments). 

OTA will continue to post relevant information on our web page as it becomes available

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Providing quality occupational therapy services during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be of vital importance. We encourage you to consider clients’ safety, needs and priorities.  Take a flexible approach while continuing to adhere to the Occupational Therapy Code of Conduct. Pay close attention to the additional precautions that need to be in place and adjust your services accordingly. This may include alternative methods (such as telehealth), changes to the way care is delivered and/or the location care is provided.

However, the elements of quality occupational therapy continue to be the same:

  • Ensure patient and provider safety at all times.
  • Engage patients and families in goal setting and treatment.
  • Use evidence-based practices.
  • Ensure your interventions are occupationally based and address functional needs.
  • Document your services accurately and timely, and focus on the skilled interventions provided.
  • Be aware of process and outcome measures that are monitored in your practice area, and work to integrate these into clinical practice.
  • If concerns arise (related to coronavirus or otherwise), bring them to your supervisor, or to your quality or compliance department. They may have resources that can help you with decision making and focusing on quality.

The use of telehealth is encouraged where possible, however, it is acknowledged that some face-to-face encounters will be essential. Clinicians should use their clinical judgement and leadership in undertaking a risk assessment for each unique scenario. Your engagement in decision-making with your manager and your team is of vital importance.

The Department of Health is actively reviewing and updating their guidelines to support you to continue to provide safe and effective care where it is feasible to do so.  They are continuously updating their guidelines and resources (including changes in their position on Covid-19 and their models of funding). These are changing frequently, and OTA is working to communicate these to members as rules and requirements are updated.

The health, wellbeing and safety of vulnerable clinicians is of paramount importance. 

It is recommended that clinicians who consider themselves at risk of serious illness as a result of Covid-19 avoid face-to-face services if possible. We recommend that vulnerable clinicians talk directly with their manager and their team about their concerns.  Vulnerable clinicians should consider offering telehealth services, and sharing the role with colleagues who can complete any required face to face consultations.

(Information as at 02/04/2020. Source: COVID-19 response update for Allied Health Practitioners - 2 April ).

These extraordinary circumstances provide the opportunity for Occupational Therapists to work to the very top of scope, however it is important that you continue to work within safe boundaries. If you are uncomfortable or feel you have inadequate training or experience you should raise concerns about the risks with your manager and/or team.

You may be asked to work outside your scope of practice in these unexpected and unforeseen circumstances. In these circumstances you will need to consider your suitability, competence and capability for providing care not typically within your scope of practice. 

If you plan to work outside your scope of practice you will need to demonstrate your competence and capability through training and/or a competency-based assessment (taking into consideration the role, context, setting, lines of accountability and supervision required).  All of this information should be carefully documented and where possible signed by the trainer and/or assessor.

We encourage you to be flexible, seek support, guidance and assistance from your manager and team as you need

We advise you to consider alternatives to face to face contact where possible although we recognise that in some instances some face to face contact may be absolutely essential.  In these situations, we advise you to carry out a risk assessment and consider both the risks to your client and yourself and take measures to mitigate these risks. 

In these situations, clinicians should also take several steps before a face to face consultation to ensure they, or the person they are treating are not unwell.
(Information as at 02/04/2020. Source: COVID-19 response update for Allied Health Practitioners - 2 April )

As of the 6th April 2020 Department of Health advise: “that, for ALL face-to-face consultations, clinicians should aim to make the consultation as short as possible.  Clinicians should maintain social distancing, practice diligent infection control (hand hygiene, cough etiquette)”. In the current environment this advice is subject to change at any time.  We advise you to check their website for updated advice prior to your face to face session with your client. 

In addition, occupational therapists must have a current flu vaccination by 1 May, 2020 to work in residential aged care facilities.

OTA has developed Telehealth Guidelines and resources to support your transition to telehealth. Click here for further resources

To help members accommodate a change in practice, we have compiled guidelines for practice using telehealth. These guidelines cover practical and ethical considerations for implementing clinical care using telehealth.

You can access the guidelines here.

You can also review the WFOT position paper on telehealth.

The choice of telehealth technology should be guided by the following principles:

  • Clinicians take a client-centred approach to their choice of technology for use with telehealth;
  • Clinicians select and use telehealth technology that is fit for purpose; and,
  • Clinicians take reasonable steps to ensure the telehealth technology meets privacy obligations.

There are a number of online platforms available to support the provision of telehealth services although they all have different properties and levels of security.  The gold standard platform is one that is secure (encrypted) with an audit trail, secure messaging, strong multi-step authentication and separate log-in permissions.  However, there does need to be flexibility because what is seen as a gold standard may not be accessible to the client.  The Department of Health has provided some guidance for Medicare providers that does provide clarification.  Their current position in response to COVID-19 is that:

  • No specific equipment is required to provide Medicare-compliant telehealth services.
  • Services can be provided through widely available video calling apps and software such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Duo, GoToMeeting and others, however free versions of these applications (i.e. non-commercial versions) may not meet applicable laws for security and privacy.
  • Practitioners must ensure that their chosen telecommunications solution meets their clinical requirements and satisfies privacy laws.

Further advice and relevant links are available in the Occupational Therapy Australia Telehealth guidelines.  The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) also has some freely available guidance on its website which may be of use.

Insurance

OTA encourage all members to contact AON or your own insurance company at this time to fully understand your current coverage. As each insurance policy is a private contract negotiated between yourself or your business and your broker OTA cannot provide advice on your coverage or inclusions.

This message is relevant if you currently hold the following insurance policy arranged by Aon:

  • Health Combined Professional Indemnity, Public & Products Liability policy;

Your policy(ies) will continue to cover you as per the usual policy terms and conditions while you continue to provide health services to your clients, even where your patient alleges they have contracted COVID-19 from you. Please be aware that you must:

  • comply with public health laws and with government directives regarding the pandemic; and
  • take reasonable precautions to prevent injury/infection or property damage.

We recommend you stay in contact with your relevant registration body and/or association to ensure you’re staying informed of relevant updates or changes that may be announced. Visit the Department of Health website which provides some definitions of what constitutes telehealth services. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your coverage, please contact Aon on 1800 805 191.

The above is intended for general information purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It is current as 2nd April 2020 and may be subject to further updates, however Aon takes no responsibility for providing either comprehensive or up to date information. It also makes no representation as to the accuracy of information received from third parties or in respect of any views expressed by Aon which relate to decisions of third parties (such as your insurer). Please contact Aon on 1800 805 191 if you have any queries.

If you currently hold the Aon Health Combined Professional Indemnity, Public & Products Liability Policy, Aon have liaised with the insurer Vero to clarify your coverage under this policy while providing your service remotely.

This policy will cover you as per the usual policy terms and conditions while you’re servicing your clients remotely (including providing telehealth services), provided you and your practice are authorised by law and your registration body and/or association to do this. 

We recommend you stay in contact with your relevant registration body and/or association to ensure you’re staying informed of relevant updates or changes that may be announced. Visit the Department of Health website which provides some definitions of what constitutes  telehealth services. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your coverage, please contact Aon on 1800 805 191.

The above is intended for general information purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It is current as 2nd April 2020 and may be subject to further updates, however Aon takes no responsibility for providing either comprehensive or up to date information. It also makes no representation as to the accuracy of information received from third parties or in respect of any views expressed by Aon which relate to decisions of third parties (such as your insurer). Please contact Aon on 1800 805 191 if you have any queries.

Infection Control

Your concern regarding the spread of COVID-19 to clients and others is a high priority. OTA is working with AHPA to demand government address severe personal protection equipment (PPE) shortages impacting health care providers in all settings, including OT practitioners.

We understand that some members are having difficulty accessing alcohol hand rub and rubber gloves. If you are not able to find alcohol hand rub or rubber gloves in store, we suggest you search online.

Remember that washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to maintain hand hygiene. Hand Hygiene Australia have a number of resources that are free and available online:

We recommended that you monitor information provided by the Department of Health and follow the rules and guidelines that have been established in response to COVID-19. If you are continuing to see patients, ensure that your practice is able to adhere to the recommendations.

The Department of Health has released a 30 minute online training module COVID-19 infection control training

You might also find it useful to review Infection Control: Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare(2019).  

We encourage clinicians to review their infection control policy and ensure strict adherence. This would include things such as, cleaning the clinical surface between patients, clean therapy equipment between use, consider patient placement in waiting rooms, clean frequently touched surface areas more often (door knobs, taps etc), and more.

Self-Care

COVID-19 has presented new demands on clinicians, both personally and professionally. It is important to consider how you will maintain your health and wellbeing during this difficult time. Some questions you may want to consider are:

  • What are the signs that I am becoming too stressed?
  • What are my current self-care strategies?
  • Are my current self-care strategies practical in the current environment?
  • How have my self-care needs changed since the outbreak of COVID-19?
  • How will I manage my self-care needs during this difficult time?

OTA has created a two page worksheet on self-care as part of our New Graduate Hub. You might be able to use this worksheet to guide development of a self-care plan for yourself and for your staff.

You could also complete a search for apps (including meditation, relaxation, yoga, home workout, journaling, and mood tracking) that may be able to support you to implement your self-care plan.

If you feel like you need additional support we encourage you to engage with your Employee Assistance Program or seek professional support. Some resources include:

Counselling services

Resources from the World Health Organisation

Consider seeking financial advice and consult with your bank if you are at risk of experiencing financial stress as a result of the impact of COVID-19.

General

The Department of Health has identified the following people are most at risk of serious illness as a result of COVID-19:

  • People aged over 70
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50 with one or more medical conditions
  • People 65yrs and over with chronic health conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Very young children and babies (risk to this group remains unclear)
  • Pregnant women (Risk to pregnant women remains unclear)

Source:  https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-covid-19#how-to-seek-medical-attention

To learn more about the disease and access the latest information and advice, browse the following resources:

 

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