A gathering was hosted by the WHO Assistive Technology team in Geneva on March 28th and 29th, with the objective of evaluating the process, results, and distribution of the WHO rapid Assistive Technology Assessment (rATA) survey, as well as devising strategies to enhance this significant means of collecting data.
The rATA survey is designed to gather information from households at a population level, which includes assessing self-reported requirements, obstacles and demand related to assistive technology. This survey was conducted worldwide between 2019 and 2021 in 35 countries and contributed to the WHO-UNICEF Global Report on Assistive Technology, which was released in May 2022.
At the meeting, 28 stakeholders hailing from 18 different countries were assembled, all of whom were involved in the creation, delivery, and interpretation of rATA data. The participants shared their individual experiences and insights gained from collecting rATA data and collectively identified key measures to enhance the questionnaire’s effectiveness, streamline rATA implementation, offer more robust support for country implementation, fortify data management and analysis, and broaden the dissemination of rATA results.
To inform evidence-based policies and programs, measure progress in improving access to quality assistive products and services, and guarantee equal access to assistive technology for those in need, it is essential to invest in effective and efficient assistive technology data collection. Stakeholder representatives attending the meeting identified key measures to enhance the rATA questionnaire’s effectiveness and ensure equitable access to assistive technology for all. The outcome of this meeting will guide further development of rATA through the GATE Global Network on Measuring Access to Assistive Technology.
Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) make up the third largest healthcare workforce in the UK National Health Service (NHS) and play a vital role in the health and care of patients. However, new research shows that current telehealth guidelines and training programmes for AHPs are not sufficiently comprehensive and lack information on key telehealth aspects.
A program of work, conducted by a team of researchers at Staffordshire University, found that many AHPs are not adequately supported in the delivery of remote patient consultations. This is a concern as telehealth has become increasingly important in the current climate, with the pandemic forcing many healthcare providers to shift to remote consultations.
Based on these studies a policy brief has been created in partnership with various stakeholders to guide the creation of telehealth patient consultation guidelines and training for AHPs.
This policy brief, which was launched on 18th January 2023 aims to outline crucial telehealth elements to consider when creating guidelines for patient consultations and to highlight areas where AHPs should receive training before conducting telehealth consultations.
The publications which informed this policy can be found at:
Leone E, Eddison N, Healy A, Royse C, Chockalingam N. Exploration of implementation, financial and technical considerations within allied health professional (AHP) telehealth consultation guidance: a scoping review including UK AHP professional bodies’ guidance. BMJ Open. 2021 Dec 27;11(12):e055823. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-055823. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/12/e055823.long
This work uncovered deficiencies in current guidelines for telehealth consultations by allied health professionals (AHPs). These guidelines demonstrated both similarities and discrepancies with the guidance for non-AHP healthcare professionals. The findings indicated that the current guidelines do not provide sufficient support for AHPs to deliver telehealth consultations. It is suggested that future research and collaboration among AHP groups and leading health institutions be undertaken to develop common guidelines that will enhance AHP telehealth services.
In this study, 658 participants were surveyed (119 AHP service managers overseeing 168 AHP services, and 539 clinicians). Among the clinicians and services represented, 87.4% and 89.4%, respectively, were using telehealth consultations to deliver healthcare, and most of these services planned to continue using telehealth after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The most significant barrier reported by participants as impacting a patient’s ability to conduct a telehealth consultation was a lack of technological skills, followed by a lack of technology for patients. These were also identified as the primary disadvantages of telehealth for patients. Many clinicians reported that telehealth consultations reduced the cost of parking and transportation for patients attending hospital appointments. The benefits reported by clinicians included saving on travel time and costs and enabling flexible working, while the benefits to AHP services included increased flexibility for patients in how appointments are conducted and reduced potential exposure of staff to contagious diseases. We concluded that widespread adoption of telehealth in its current form in NHS AHP services may exacerbate inequalities in healthcare access for vulnerable groups with limited digital literacy or access. As a result, telehealth may be deemed inappropriate and underutilized, nullifying the potential benefits such as sustainability, patient empowerment, and reduced treatment burden. This could increase disparities in healthcare.
In this paper we examined the organizational readiness of AHP services regarding the implementation of telehealth guidelines and staff training. Results showed that UK NHS AHP services lack clear and comprehensive guidelines and the necessary skills to effectively deliver telehealth. Vulnerable individuals are excluded from current guidelines, which could exacerbate health inequalities and hinder the success of the NHS digital transformation. The lack of national guidelines underscores the need for consistent AHP telehealth guidelines.
Eddison N, Royse C, Healy A, Leone E, Chockalingam N. Telehealth provision across allied health professions (AHP): An investigation of reimbursement considerations for its successful implementation in England. Health Sci Rep. 2022 Dec 13;6(1):e991. doi: 10.1002/hsr2.991. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hsr2.991
This study investigated the potential barriers to the adoption of telehealth posed by differences in the NHS tariff. To understand the effect of these changes on reimbursement for AHP telehealth consultations because of the pandemic, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England in April 2021, to request information on the current tariffs for face-to-face and telehealth consultations for AHP services. Findings showed significant variations across the NHS in England, with some CCGs paying the same amount regardless of the mode of delivery, some paying 6.5 times more for in-person consultations, and only a few paying more for telehealth consultations.
We are undertaking research to gather information on the prosthetic and orthotic workforce in the UK. The study aims to capture a wide variety of demographic and work-related information about the UK prosthetic and orthotic workforce. Currently, workforce data for people working within the prosthetics and orthotics profession is incomplete resulting in an unknown national workforce picture, which prevents accurate service planning and projection requirements. The project has been funded by Health Education England through the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO). The findings of the study have the potential to influence future service planning.
Who do we want to complete the survey?
We want to gather information on all individuals working within the prosthetic and orthotic profession which includes:
• Prosthetic/Orthotic technician
• Prosthetic/Orthotic support worker
• Prosthetic/Orthotic student/apprentice
The survey has now been running for 4 weeks but we need your help to get more responses, from all professions across the UK. We know that there are 1,124 registered Prosthetists/Orthotists in the UK today and so far, we have only had responses from 30% of this population.
We have a low response from technicians, support workers, students, and apprentices.
We have a low response from Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.
To complete the survey, click here or scan the QR code:
There is a chance to win a £100 retail voucher, the survey closes 18/11/22.
International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) organises biennial World Congresses. This is ISPO’s flagship conference and is a unique forum where the global community of professionals involved in the care of persons in need of prosthetic, orthotic, mobility and assistive devices comes together to learn about the latest scientific and clinical advances, products, innovative technologies, designs and materials in P&O care provision with the global health services.
The next world congress in 2023 is titled “Art and the Science” and will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Four renowned international professionals Rosielena Jované, Sophie de Oliveira Barata, Professor Stefania Fatone and Professor Nachiappan Chockalingam will present keynote lectures around the congress theme The Art and the Science.
Footwear advice created from footwear assessment is often anecdotal based on individual clinical experience and interest. There is often no structured way to evaluate the shoe worn to clinic and a generalised opinion on footwear choice is given.
Isolated assessment of footwear can provide a number of challenges for clinicians as wider footwear choices made by patients often do not reflect the shoes worn to appointments. This creates an unrealistic view for the clinician and inaccurate assumptions are often made when issuing advice.
To assist clinicians in assessing shoes we have developed a simple valid clinical footwear tool.
This tool has been designed to help clinicians quantify and measure a full range of footwear in one appointment. The footwear tool also provides a systematic view to assess the quality of fit and design of the shoe whilst channelling the clinician towards developing individual footwear advice for the patient. The tool is multifaceted and addresses a number of parameters associated with good fit and footwear choice.
Our validation of the tool shows that it is reliable to use in the clinic and can be applied to a number of styles of shoes. There is minimal equipment required to use the tool and completion of the assessment takes a short period of time.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented expansion of telehealth with a shift to remote patient consultations across the allied health professions.
Our study published in BMJ Open has examined current guidelines for the 14 Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) in the UK reveals a clear need to solve the disparities in the level of guidance for remote consultations between professions.
While telehealth can be considered an efficient and safe way to deliver consultations, in practice there are barriers which can lead to unintended consequences; these include technological constraints such as inadequate internet bandwidth, lack of skills among users, patient confidentiality, privacy as well as data security issues.
Additionally, concerns have been raised about the risk of patient harm resulting from the lack of diagnostic and therapeutic quality of services delivered through telehealth, as this can lead to highly infectious and life-threatening conditions being missed.
The study revealed that most telehealth guidelines were designed to quickly respond to the need for remote patient consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic and recommends that available guidelines should be reviewed to ensure they meet the long-term needs of patient consultations.
Very few guidelines were specifically designed for certain clinical populations, which acknowledged that telehealth consultations need to be adapted to meet individual needs. It was also found that most guidelines were specifically designed for occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, leaving the other AHP groups with very few or inadequate guidelines.
Everyone has a right to certain products and devices that can help them function in everyday life. This is the stance of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has published a list of the most important of these devices. It includes things like walking aids, wheelchairs and braille displays.
But assistive technologies, as they are called, are difficult to access in many parts of Africa. This is a huge problem because the prevalence of disabilities on the continent is estimated at 15.6%. With a population of more than one billion, the number of people in need of at least one assistive product in Africa stands at over 200 million, and that figure is projected to double by 2050.
The WHO estimates that only about 15% to 25% of those in need of assistive technology products in Africa currently have access to them.
Our research sought to find out why and to offer solutions to this problem.
Assistive technologies are functional, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices. Not only does the WHO support a global commitment to making them more easily available, the United Nations also regards them as a basic human right. This is because some people need them in order to exercise their rights.
Without access to the assistive technology they need, people can face exclusion and are at risk of poverty. They may also be perceived as a burden to their families and society. The positive impact of assistive technology products goes far beyond improving the health and well-being of users. There are also the socio-economic benefits of reducing direct health costs and having a more productive labour force, indirectly stimulating economic growth.
The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol was negotiated quickly and well supported by member states. It was also the first human rights convention to be open for signature by regional integration organisations. But its implementation has been shaky, particularly in Africa.
We believe this is best explained by the idea of economic and political institutional voids. These are basically gaps in political and economic systems, trade policies and markets. An absence of specialised intermediaries, regulatory systems and contract enforcing mechanisms creates higher transaction costs for doing business or even entering markets.
Seeing the problem in this way also helps to show how to solve it and achieve fair access to assistive technologies.
First, there is little production of assistive technologies in Africa because the parts are generally expensive to make. Many indigenous producers use crude and unstandardised materials.
Second, assistive technologies that are not produced locally are expensive to import. There are no unified tariff structures for them within the continent. This means that costs vary widely from country to country. Often, when assistive technologies do get imported despite high tariffs, they might need to be adapted for the local environment. This increases the costs even further.
Third, assistive technologies are mostly excluded from health financing and insurance schemes on the continent. They are not often included in central medical store catalogues.
Fourth, there aren’t enough people at all levels of the health system with the required knowledge and skills to provide assistive technology services and products.
Fifth, and most crucially, there is no unified governance framework for assistive technologies on the continent. And there’s a widespread lack of awareness about why they are needed and how they can improve the lives of people who need them.
Most African countries do not have national assistive technology policies or programmes. As a result, access to assistive products is difficult and many are left behind.
African governments need to provide leadership, coordination and resources to plan and implement policies that increase access to assistive technologies.
Acting on the WHO African regional framework is a good place to start. The framework has modest aims. For instance, it calls for 40% of African member states to have assessed their assistive technology situation and developed a national strategy to improve access by 2024. This will help 40% of the population in Africa that needs assistive products to get them without suffering financial hardship.
The African Union can learn from the European Union. The European Parliamentary Research Service has commissioned and published an in-depth report of assistive technologies. The report covers economic, political and socio-ethical perspectives and it tries to implement the declarations that assistive technologies are a basic human right. Such a focused and thorough evaluation is missing in Africa.
To produce technologies on the continent, the African Union should develop a market strategy. The current market is one where the players are left to fend for themselves, and so face high operating costs. These costs ultimately make assistive technologies expensive.
Producers should also embrace frugal innovation – the process of reducing the complexity and cost of an item and its production, usually by removing nonessential features.
Qualified personnel are another part of the solution.
Finally, but maybe most importantly, there is a need for a structured enquiry to highlight the gaps in economic, political, scientific, and clinical knowledge for assistive technology development and deployment in Africa – and a unified approach to solving the problems.
This would help millions of people in Africa to achieve their basic rights such as access to education, freedom to live, and the right to work.
We have developed a novel concept to assess plantar laoding using 3D-printed, tuneable structures. This will help clinicians better understand the cause of foot ulcer development in patients with diabetes and lead to improved clincal outcomes.
Dr Chatzistergos, who led the study, said: “Our work has demonstrated a method to reliably detect overloading using a low-cost non-electronic technique. We have used a 3D-printed thin-wall structure that changes its properties when repeatedly loaded above or below a tuneable threshold. We believe that this is a step change from current practice.”
This year, Children’s Wisconsin and their academic partners, The Medical College of Wisconsin, were the hosts for the 2021 International Research Society for Spinal Disorders conference.
The Society was founded in 1992 with the tenet to integrate basic science with clinical care to benefit patients from across around the world. IRSSD conferences provide interaction between clinicians and researchers with interests in spinal biomechanics, imaging and measurement, genetics aetiopathogenesis, growth and metabolism, innovations in conservative and surgical therapies, and quality of life and functional outcomes, to mention just some of the areas of activity.
The pandemic de-railed the physical conference with just short of 200 attendees spent a fascinating, insightful, and very well run virtual event in late January. Professor Nachi Chockalingam, Dr Rob Needham, and Professor Tom Shannon presented work and opinion within a symposium entitled Gait and Posture Analysis in Scoliosis-Implications for Clinical Practice, with Dr Ram Haddas from the Texas Back Institute. After the presentations, Nachi hosted a very lively and interesting questions session.
Nachi, Tom and Nikola Jevtić from the Scolio Centar, Novi Sad, Serbia presented our work inCosmetic changes in patients following a Schroth Exercise Regime: a two year follow-up. The primary objective of our longitudinal study has been to investigate the relationship between scoliosis spinal deformity measures, clinic reports, images, curve classifications, and back shape data with the goal to develop, test and validate some new cosmetic deformity metrics. Our work is starting to show encouraging results, and we were hugely honoured to be awarded one of the two poster prizes.
This exciting work continues in Serbia and Bulgaria with donated equipment now also installed in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina to expand the research efforts in that country as well.
@ThePO_dcast is set up to discuss points of interest from across the world of prosthetics and orthotics. The latest podcast features our Dr Nicola Eddison discussing Tuning vs. Biomechanical Optimisation!