Telehealth offers a solution to assist delivery of occupational therapy (OT) services for hand therapy in rural and remote locations. However, there is currently no evidence to validate this service model. The aim of this study was to examine the validity of clinical decisions made during hand therapy sessions conducted via telehealth compared to a traditional clinical model (TCM) assessment, and explore patient and clinician satisfaction.
Eighteen patients referred for hand therapy to a rural/remote hospital-based outpatient service were assessed simultaneously via telehealth and a TCM assessment. An allied health assistant supported data collection at the patient end. Hand function was assessed using a range of objective measures, subjective scales and patient reported information. Minimal level of percent exact agreement (PEA) between the telehealth OT (T-OT) and the TCM-OT was set at ≥80%.
Level of agreement for all objective measures (dynamometer and pinch gauge reading, goniometer flexion and extension, circumference in millimetres) ranged between 82% and 100% PEA. High agreement (>80% PEA) was also obtained for judgements of scar and general limb function, exercise compliance, pain severity and sensitivity location, activities of daily living and global ratings of change (GROC) scores. There was 100% PEA for overall recommendations. Minimal technical issues were experienced. Patient and clinician satisfaction was high.
Clinical decisions made via telehealth were comparable to the TCM and consumers were satisfied with telehealth as a service option. Telehealth offers the potential to improve access to hand therapy services for rural and remote patients.