Telehealth – building capacity and evidence for the future

15 Oct 2021

This Telehealth Awareness Month we are highlighting the important work our team are doing to improve telehealth delivery and the possibilities it presents, for people affected by their gambling, alcohol or other drug use.

A person is looking at their screen talking to a health pracitioner.

Making addiction treatment and support more accessible

Turning Point has been providing ‘healthcare at a distance’ for over 30 years. Our telehealth portfolio includes video consultations for individuals and groups, 24/7 telephone helplines, online and text-based counselling services and telephone-delivered interventions to help Australians and families impacted by gambling, alcohol or other drug use. 

Upscaling alcohol and other drug sector training

Turning Point has an extensive history in online education, and many of our established continuing professional development programs, including our postgraduate and vocational courses, are delivered online.

Education specialists and the clinical teams at Turning Point combined in the last year to develop a number of resources focusing on implementing and maximising use of telehealth during COVID-19, including webinars, tip sheets for clinicians and clients, online short courses and workshops. 

Turning Point also worked with Monash University to develop and deliver a new Graduate Certificate of Telehealth, one of only a handful of such courses in Australia. The online Graduate Certificate of Telehealth is due to begin taking students in 2022, in recognition of the long-term continuation of telehealth services well beyond the current pandemic. This course covers the full range of telehealth modalities, and provides health practitioners and service managers with the knowledge and skills required to deliver safe and effective telehealth services to clients experiencing addiction, mental health and behavioural difficulties. The Graduate Certificate of Telehealth reflects Turning Point’s commitment to developing clinical practice in emerging areas and being a leading provider of both telehealth services and professional education.

Dr Naomi Crafti, Senior Education and Research Fellow, Workforce Development says, “It’s very exciting to see increasing access to quality healthcare across all our telehealth platforms. Telephone, video calls and group programs, text-based counselling, online psychoeducation and apps. The future of healthcare is definitely about meeting the client or patient where they are at.”

Intake for this course is currently open, find out more here

Building the evidence base for telehealth

Accompanying telehealth’s rise in usage is a need for further quality research, to better identify and understand telehealth’s benefits, limitations and potential areas for growth.

Turning Point’s Ready2Change program is a multi-session, telephone-delivered cognitive and behavioural intervention for alcohol, drug and gambling problems. Clients are typically referred to the Ready2Change program through a number of statewide helplines, such as DirectLine in Victoria. A body of research is underway to understand the benefits of this program for different clients and drugs of concern.

A recent study of routinely collected data from the Ready2Change program found that it decreased the severity of drug use problems for clients with alcohol, methamphetamine or cannabis use, and had secondary positive effects on other drug use and psychological distress. 

‘“This is one of the first studies to demonstrate the benefits of a telephone-delivered treatment program that is embedded within a statewide helpline, where helpline service provision is extended beyond single-session crisis support to provide multiple treatment sessions,” said Turning Point Research Fellow Dr Jasmin Grigg.

This research adds to findings of a recent qualitative study of clients’ experiences of the Ready2Change program, which found individuals with alcohol use problems had positive experiences of treatment provided by telephone. 

“Participants reported that the telephone-delivered program helped them to manage their drinking, and that they were able to develop a strong rapport with their counsellor despite sessions being provided by telephone,” said Dr Grigg. 

Findings also showed that Ready2Change is being accessed by people living in all geographical locations, with a higher rate of participation among individuals located in regional areas where treatment services are typically more difficult to attend. 

Turning Point and Monash University are now conducting two nationwide randomised controlled trials of the Ready2Change program for alcohol and methamphetamine problems, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Data collection for the first trial, targeting alcohol problems, has recently been completed.

344 participants were recruited, of whom the majority were new to treatment despite experiencing high levels of alcohol problem severity, and multiple treatment barriers prior to engaging with Ready2Change. 

Data analyses for this trial are currently underway. Participant recruitment for the second trial, targeting methamphetamine problems, commenced in February 2021 and will concludes at the end of 2022 – anyone interested can sign up here