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Bringing Virtual Care to a Rural Community

Charles Patterson is Digital Facilitator at Powys Living Well Service

The Powys Living Well Service supports individuals across the rural county of Powys. Charles Patterson explains the importance of providing consistent, high-quality care and support as close to home as possible

Supporting independence with local care

Care and support close to home enables individuals to live well independently for as long as possible. Most of our care is now delivered using digital solutions, with some people requiring additional support to get connected. Our support is delivered by our own digital facilitators who consistently receive great feedback with service users commenting that they have felt looked after and understood. This is especially when they felt worried or uncertain when faced with digital options to connect.

A farmer’s journey to connectivity

As digital facilitators, we meet people from many walks of life. A North Powys sheep farmer provides a good example having been referred by his GP to help with his chronic conditions. He had an initial telephone consultation with a clinician and was introduced to digital support that allowed him to attend online consultations and virtual group programmes. He was automatically emailed a link to an online appointment.

Overcoming technological hurdles

As he did not appear in the virtual waiting room, we gave him a call. It was clear he was very frustrated and stressed. He had been struggling to connect using his phone, being plagued by persistent pain. His sheep were in the middle of lambing, which added extra pressure to an already tense situation.

We took some time to gently engage and put him at ease before attempting to resolve his connection issues. He really appreciated the opportunity to chat and became calmer and more open to trying something new after discussing life as an isolated farmer, and the stresses and strains of modern life.

Step by step approach

Our approach is to spend some time talking through the process and ensuring the service user feels ready to have a go. The user is guided through each step carefully and concisely. Once online, we walk through the functionality and ensure they understand how to get online for their future consultations. In this situation the user felt more comfortable and was very grateful for the opportunity to have a good chat.

Overcoming isolation

Another example involves a lady who has lived in and around Brecon in south Powys all her life. Since her husband of many years died, she had been struggling to manage life on her own and with persistent conditions. She completed her initial one-to-one appointments over the phone and was referred by her clinician for digital support to help her join a virtual programme of learning.

During her appointment with our digital facilitator, she advised us that she wanted to use her late husband’s laptop but had no personal email address. She was unsure how to get started; she told us that she was not confident with technology. As the appointment proceeded it became clear that she would need additional support, and the laptop was rather out of date.

Ensuring access to digital resources

A joint project with Powys County Council’s library service allows people to borrow iPads to connect to their appointments. She attended the library to collect an iPad and receive a detailed briefing.

An in-person digital service session, Powys Library

Building confidence through training

She was very nervous and needed reassurance to overcome her fear of the technology.  We arranged for two further briefing sessions with the experienced team at the library. These sessions were one of the first times she had been out of the house since the pandemic, and she was delighted with the social contact.

Following completion of her briefing sessions she felt confident enough to proceed with her online programme. She successfully completed the whole programme of learning. Nowadays, she meets up with her daughter online, does her banking via an app, and orders her groceries online.

Empowering through digital learning

Delivering digital support early in the process has allowed people to access a much wider range of information and this can lead to better shared decision-making. Making sure that people can join virtual group programmes has accelerated their access to support and negates the need to re-establish face-to-face programmes post pandemic.”

Scaling up care through digital solutions

Across our services, digital support has been key to scaling up our provision. Virtual appointments and clinical programmes have allowed us to help more people, achieve a better outcome, and clearly contribute to living well.

This is an excerpt from our magazine Pain Matters 86.

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