By Weh Yeoh
In 2018, when we started Umbo, we were concerned about the long wait times that families in Australia – particularly those in regional or rural areas – experienced to access quality speech and occupational therapy. Having worked in countries like Cambodia, China, Vietnam and India, I couldn’t believe that in my own country of Australia, access to health care was not a given. Umbo was born out of the idea that if we could deliver quality therapy online, we could cut wait times down from 18 months, to as little as a week.
Early on my journey of discovery, I met with one of my Umbo co-founders, Ed Johnson, who is a rurally based speech pathologist passionate about access to healthcare. Ed told me something really interesting.
He said that despite the evidence for online therapy being very solid – he himself was completing a PhD in the area – the practice of it was not common.
I also met with Dr Kim Bulkeley, a Senior Lecturer at The University of Sydney, and now advisor to Umbo. She mentioned that research consistently shows that resistance to online therapy was higher in the clinician population than in clients. Often, people in rural communities were begging for telehealth, but therapists weren’t offering it.
This aligned with my experience. A number of speech and occupational therapists I spoke to in 2018 told me right off the bat that online therapy didn’t work. When I asked them whether they had ever tried it, more often than not, the answer was no.
Fast forward three and a half years, and the whole landscape of healthcare, if not, the world has changed immeasurably. COVID-19 and the global pandemic has forced even the most traditional therapist to consider delivering therapy online as a viable option.
We know that as lockdown becomes a regular part of our lives, one of the ways to ensure continuity of care is to deliver therapy online. The number of telehealth consultations in Australia has exploded.
Interestingly enough, as we talk to providers across the country, a number of them are not seeking to maintain any telehealth component of their work, and very few have had formal training in how to deliver therapy online. I think this is why, despite higher adoption, a lot of myths about telehealth still persist.
“Telehealth doesn’t work.” “Kids don’t want to sit in front of a screen, so it can’t work.” “My clients would never use it because they don’t have a laptop”.
In 2018, using Ed’s expertise, Umbo created an online training course for allied health professionals who wanted to go past these myths and learn how comprehensive online delivery of health services could be.
However, despite a global pandemic and widespread adoption of telehealth, comprehensive understanding of what online therapy can do, especially for people in vulnerable situations, seems relatively low.
For us to deliver on our mission of getting people in rural communities access to healthcare, we believe that sharing knowledge is vital. And that’s why we’ve decided to release all 9 modules of our previously paid online therapy training course for free. We want all allied health clinicians across Australia to be able to access it.
We see this as a core part of our work as a social enterprise.
If you’re interested in learning why online therapy is not just Zoom plus business-as-usual, and why it’s simply not just about putting kids in front of screens, this is the training course for you. You can also claim up to three hours of Continuing Professional Development by doing this course.
But most importantly, by doing the course, you’re learning an important skill, which is invaluable into the future, because we truly believe this is the way in which healthcare is going. You’re also learning how to do therapy with people outside your geographical location, potentially those in rural and regional Australia.
It means you can join Umbo in helping to create more equitable access to vital health care services. That’s something that gets us very excited at Umbo. And we hope it gets you excited too.
If you have any feedback about the course, please feel free to reach out via the contact form and let me know your thoughts. Either way, I hope that you get a lot of value out of it. And that clients who you may not ordinarily see, due to the tyranny of distance, are able to benefit as well.
You can access Umbo’s free online therapy training course here.