As an occupational therapist working with people living with long-term neurological conditions, I have had to change how I engage with my clients during the coronavirus. Some tell me their life has not changed apart from the typical difficulties of getting out and engaging in everyday tasks and essential things.
Others tell me on the phone that they are “fine,” but I feel limited; I can’t see their eyes or faces on the telephone. I have to find other ways to know whether they are fine. I experienced one sad case; a client of mine, who was ill for two weeks during the total lockdown period in Uganda, said she was fine on the phone. She did this to not worry her son; sadly, she passed away four days later.
As an O.T., I love engaging with people meaningfully, which is a crucial role. When I speak with my colleagues and friends, they say they like the new ways of working and using Telehealth. They mentioned it has been convenient; instead of the lengthy, inconvenient, and time-consuming trips to the hospital, they can offer the service from home. This has enabled the removal of the barrier of distance, and one can remotely deliver therapy interventions and enhance clinical support in the local communities. This, from their perspective, has improved access to specialized services, opened the opportunity to learn, reduced the feeling of isolation for clinicians in rural settings, and, last but not least, helped maintain progress in their clients.
Some miss the personal touch that accompanies physical therapy sessions; they say this cannot be achieved by a phone call or video conferencing. The eyes of a Ugandan are in their hands; They only believe after seeing or practically touching or being touched. (Ugandan Proverb). I have often called a client, and they tell me, “Okay, we shall see when you come or when the lockdown is lifted.” They don’t believe that a service is being rendered through a phone call.
Also, some say they encounter difficulties while using technological devices.
In conclusion, the use of Telehealth is expanding quickly in Uganda, and it carries significant benefits. It is a helpful and safe service delivery model for many healthcare providers; however, it comes with its fair share of challenges, such as cost, practitioner competence, and reimbursement.