Evaluation of a Novel e-Learning Program for Physiotherapists to Manage Knee Osteoarthritis via Telehealth: Qualitative Study Nested in the PEAK (Physiotherapy Exercise and Physical Activity for Knee Osteoarthritis) Randomized Controlled Trial.
Journal of medical Internet research. 2021;(4):e25872
BACKGROUND The delivery of physiotherapy via telehealth could provide more equitable access to services for patients. Videoconference-based telehealth has been shown to be an effective and acceptable mode of service delivery for exercise-based interventions for chronic knee pain; however, specific training in telehealth is required for physiotherapists to effectively and consistently deliver care using telehealth. The development and evaluation of training programs to upskill health care professionals in the management of osteoarthritis (OA) has also been identified as an important priority to improve OA care delivery. OBJECTIVE This study aims to explore physiotherapists' experiences with and perceptions of an e-learning program about best practice knee OA management (focused on a structured program of education, exercise, and physical activity) that includes telehealth delivery via videoconferencing. METHODS We conducted a qualitative study using individual semistructured telephone interviews, nested within the Physiotherapy Exercise and Physical Activity for Knee Osteoarthritis randomized controlled trial, referred to as the PEAK trial. A total of 15 Australian physiotherapists from metropolitan and regional private practices were interviewed following the completion of an e-learning program. The PEAK trial e-learning program involved self-directed learning modules, a mock video consultation with a researcher (simulated patient), and 4 audited practice video consultations with pilot patients with chronic knee pain. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were thematically analyzed. RESULTS A total of five themes (with associated subthemes) were identified: the experience of self-directed e-learning (physiotherapists were more familiar with in-person learning; however, they valued the comprehensive, self-paced web-based modules. Unwieldy technological features could be frustrating); practice makes perfect (physiotherapists benefited from the mock consultation with the researcher and practice sessions with pilot patients alongside individualized performance feedback, resulting in confidence and preparedness to implement new skills); the telehealth journey (although inexperienced with telehealth before training, physiotherapists were confident and able to deliver remote care following training; however, they still experienced some technological challenges); the whole package (the combination of self-directed learning modules, mock consultation, and practice consultations with pilot patients was felt to be an effective learning approach, and patient information booklets supported the training package); and impact on broader clinical practice (training consolidated and refined existing OA management skills and enabled a switch to telehealth when the COVID-19 pandemic affected in-person clinical care). CONCLUSIONS Findings provide evidence for the perceived effectiveness and acceptability of an e-learning program to train physiotherapists (in the context of a clinical trial) on best practice knee OA management, including telehealth delivery via videoconferencing. The implementation of e-learning programs to upskill physiotherapists in telehealth appears to be warranted, given the increasing adoption of telehealth service models for the delivery of clinical care.