Innovative Virtual Student Placements at Connect Health keeps the pipeline of physios flowing during Covid-19 and beyond

Covid-19 has affected many people in different ways and for MSK physiotherapy students it has put a stop to education for around 50% of them.

Connect Health, the UK’s leading independent community provider of musculoskeletal services, accepts around 100 students every year, who carry out their placements with patients in clinic, working alongside a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians.

During COVID-19, a significant proportion (circa 50%) of physiotherapy student placements have been put on hold, delaying graduation and affecting progression from year two to three. This is terribly stressful for the students and whilst Health Education England has arranged for Hospital Trusts to accommodate certain students as Health Care Practitioners (HCPs) which allows training hours to be built up and some students have been able to graduate early, there are a proportion of aspiring physios who have been left in limbo.

The Connect Health Virtual Student Placement initiative was the brainchild of Matthew Wyatt, Consultant Physiotherapist, and commenced on 19th May initially with 25 students from two universities, closely followed by another 40 students who started on 1st June, in partnership with Brunel University, King’s College London, and St George’s University and 120 following soon after.

Matthew said

I’m so pleased we have been able to quickly find a way to continue to support students during COVID-19 and make sure we keep the pipeline of future physios flowing. We are keen to show others what we’re doing to help increase the number of virtual placements on offer, as we can’t support all the students out there who need us. We remain committed to be able to carry out this important work to support the NHS and the population with MSK problems, whilst services remain closed.

This ground-breaking initiative is unique in structure and size by offering three different elements completely virtually from the student’s own home or dorms.

  • Remote consultations allow students to shadow/co-deliver patient care with clinicians by phone or video. This offers enormous diversity to traditional placements as students shadow occupational health physio services, physiotherapy, advanced practice clinics in sports and exercise medicine, occupational therapy, rheumatology consultants and psychology. There is access to online consultations to pain clinics and Pain Management Programmes and group case discussion sessions outside of the clinic environment.
  • Facebook Live enables the delivery of virtual group rehabilitation, exercise and education sessions to patients and the public via the Connect Health Facebook pages.
  • A virtual student academy in Workplace from Facebook, enables access to interactions with over 400 clinicians and a broad range of exciting educational resources provided as part of Connect Health’s Clinical Academy. This includes 20/30 mins daily CPD sessions delivered by senior clinicians, Connect Health’s Virtual Clinical Conference and online learning modules.

This offered a lifeline to those students who were unable to progress to the third year of their course and was vital to those students unable to work in Trusts during Covid-19 due to shielding themselves or a relative.

Dr Claire White, Education Lead for Physiotherapy, King’s College London said

With healthcare services significantly disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been working with Connect Health to develop an innovative remote clinical placement for our physiotherapy students. This ensures that despite a reduction in traditional face to face placements, students can gain essential practice experience working with patients, families and professionals and enable them to continue with their studies. The remote placement model is a fantastic learning opportunity with exposure to MSK practitioners right across the Connect Health network. This is vital in supporting their professional development and maintaining the flow of graduates into the workforce.

Patient feedback has also been very positive

Lynn Dosis has lived and worked in Corfu for 26 years and 6 months ago, started to get significant pain in her shoulder. She says

Without access to the live videos I would have been stuck at home in pain. I live 5km up a mountain and would have struggled to drive the 45 minutes to see the doctor. I’m just so happy I can do things again. I went through so much pain for so long and then I was in lockdown and didn’t know what to do.

Maria Larmer, 53 from St Albans has suffered from Knee Osteoarthritis for years. She says

When lockdown struck, the language school where I worked as an English teacher closed so I moved my work online as much as I could, which has exacerbated a sedentary lifestyle.

It felt like it was getting harder to move from my chair due to the pain in my knee and I was actually becoming quite unstable walking to and from the shop. Then I found out about the Facebook Live exercise sessions. The fantastic bit is having the exercises on my phone here at home. It felt like I had an official physio in my home. Without these exercises, I would have had more pain and less mobility.

It has gained international appeal too as some students have had to travel back home due to Covid-19, including Canada, Barcelona, Ireland and Singapore. Interestingly, patients from all over the world are joining virtual rehab and exercise classes which are being run via Facebook by the students. It is a live environment which is pretty unique as it also allows patients to ask questions.

The feedback from students has been fantastic.

I’m one of the students in your first cohort here at Connect Health and I’ve been really impressed and just generally really enjoyed the whole experience – a huge learning opportunity in many aspects and lots of benefits that I would never have had with a conventional placement!

 

Thanks for the session, really enjoyed it. I think it was really good to talk through a case in detail with a clinician and communicating and reasoning with other students to come up with diagnosis, alternatives and treatment. I also really found it helpful as we were bouncing off each other with our answers and I was learning things that I didn’t know from yourself and the other students.

Telehealth is changing the future of placements. Healthcare isn’t going to be the same again and students and patients have adapted incredibly rapidly to this new virtual world.

Visit our Virtual Student Placements page for more information and resources:

Virtual Student Placements