This month we are pleased to feature PhD Candidate Rik Dawson. Rik is a gerontological physiotherapist, with over 25 years working in aged care who is passionate about exercise for older people. We asked Rik to tell us about himself and his research.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. I am currently enrolled in the PhD program at the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health (IMH) under the supervision of Professor Cathie Sherrington and Dr Marina Pinheiro. The Institute for Musculoskeletal Health brings together over 60 research staff, research students, and professional staff from the University of Sydney with a growing group of Sydney Local Health District clinicians. Their research has influenced my practice and I really appreciate the opportunity to expand the knowledge base about digital health and exercise interventions for older people.
What is your research on? My PhD focuses on telehealth physiotherapy for older people. Telehealth physiotherapy is emerging as a method of service delivery for older people living in regional and rural Australia and during the COVID-19 pandemic. My randomised controlled trial aims to evaluate the effect and acceptability of a telehealth physiotherapy program on mobility and falls in older people receiving aged care services in the community and residential aged care setting. We have just begun zoom baseline data collection on my first cohort of participants in rural NSW.
What are the real-world consequences of your research? We want to understand how older people living with dementia respond to technology and explore their experiences as they follow on-line physiotherapy exercise programs. We want to explore the barriers and facilitators of this type of program delivery and find out if older people would recommend telehealth physiotherapy to other people like themselves. We have co-designed the intervention with older people who have lived experience of dementia as carers and staff from the aged care industry. We have developed some implementation goals as part of the study design to maximise roll out across Australia if the trial is proved to be effective and acceptable. All our participants will be given a mobile tablet with in-built connectivity and they will have the opportunity to follow our exercise videos on our website and apps designed by physiotherapists for older people.
What does digital health mean to you? I firmly believed that digital health was going to become a standard part of care in the near future but COVID-19 brought the near future here sooner than anticipated. Luckily the science and practice of digitally-supported physiotherapy have undergone rapid growth in recent years so the physiotherapy profession was ready to embrace digital health to improve patient outcomes. Digital health means that we gather better data, explore patient reported outcome and experience measures more easily, and importantly, increase people’s access to physiotherapy. Too often people have had to wait too long to see a physiotherapist with relevant experience to assist them achieve better health outcomes. Digital health provides physiotherapists with new ways to deliver treatments of known effectiveness and to provide innovative treatment strategies.
Many people hesitate to use digital health with older people due to preconceived ideas about this cohort’s ability to interface with technology. I am looking forward to finding out ways to best support older people to engage with digital health to receive the care when and where they want it.
Connect with Rik:
A very big thank you to Rik for taking the time to be the August DHIN student feature!