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Philippa Oakley is a chiropractor and the Clinical Director of multidisciplinary healthcare clinic Acorn Health.

Acorn Health provides a range of healthcare services such as chiropractic, life coaching, acupuncture, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and massage. It currently employs three people: a Practice Manager who is also a qualified coach, a Pilates instructor and Philippa, who provides online consultations.

The effect of lockdown

As a result of Covid-19 the business had to furlough two part-time receptionists, and lockdown overall had a huge and immediate effect on the clinic and how it operates.

As Philippa and her team care for vulnerable people who have different abilities and accessibility requirements, they closed the clinic before lockdown, as soon as they became aware that people using the clinic would be put at an unacceptable level of risk. Acorn Health became one of the first clinics in the UK to have an established virtual consultation service put in place, with the team having to quickly learn how to roll out new systems to enable virtual consultations to take place securely.

Philippa says: “We were certainly very conscious of the duty of care that we have for our patients, so in March 2020, as a direct result of the pandemic, we completely pivoted the business and took it entirely online. We adapted within the space of a weekend, with guidance from the British Chiropractic Association, helping us to put in new processes to ensure our patients could still access the care they needed. This means we’re now exclusively providing online consultations including chiropractic consultations, Pilates sessions, life coaching and pain management coaching.”

As well as moving consultations online, the team also did a complete review of their IT to make sure all their systems were secure enough to manage sensitive medical information. 

“It was very important to us that we didn’t put something in place that was subpar and only catered for an able-bodied, IT literate demographic. Luckily, our Practice Manager Rhiannon has a great amount of knowledge in marketing and PR, so we were able to communicate with our patients using a variety of formats.”

A digital-led approach

Philippa is in no doubt that being able to gain and apply new IT skills quickly is key to the survival of the business. When lockdown happened, she and her team had to rapidly upskill to move operations online. 

Philippa says: “As a small business, when you've got limited resources, anything that saves time and effort, particularly in that sort of highly reactive environment, is worth its weight in gold. You want to spend the limited amount of time you have on learning and upskilling, not searching for the tools and resources.”

“It’s purely thanks to IT skills that we have survived. If we had still been on pen and paper and just dealing with phones, the number of patients we would have to call individually would have been an astronomical hurdle to try and overcome. By learning and applying new IT skills and knowledge, we have been able to save our business and successfully pivot it and take it exclusively online.”

Philippa believes that she and her team need to continue to learn and upskill in order to adapt and for the business to prosper. They plan on using Good Things Foundation’s Make It Click platform to source up-to-date and verified digital training courses.

“Now the initial rush of the pandemic is over and we're trying to get back to life as normal, we’re actively looking to develop in other areas, from how to reach people more effectively via social media like Facebook and Instagram to website development so we can make improvements ourselves instead of having to ask our web technician. We’re certainly also looking into disability accessibility, so we can continue to communicate in the best way possible and care for people living with visual impairment or other disabilities.”

Unexpected benefits    

Managing the effect of the pandemic on the business and transitioning to exclusively online consultations has been hard work, but it has also brought benefits. 

Virtual consultations are run in a surprisingly similar way to an in-person consultation. The same high standard of screening, providing advice, reassurance and guidance can be provided using webcams, screen-sharing and anatomy software to talk the patients through the area of the body that's affected so they can fully understand what’s happening. Furthermore, for many people, the online service is more accessible. 

Philippa says: “Providing online consultations enables us to help many people who would not come to a physical clinic. For example, it’s much more convenient for people with mobility issues or childcare issues, and often more relaxing too because they are in their home environment.”

Philippa continues: “The fact that we now have these systems in place, and that similar systems are being adopted by hundreds of other clinics throughout the country, will mean more people can get the care they need. And certainly, when you're looking at the burden that back pain and musculoskeletal conditions place on the NHS, having these systems in place now is going to have such a massive knock-on effect because it will help to relieve and alleviate this burden. We know that we've helped locally but if we can now help nationally and signpost those people to services in their area, and provide support and guidance which helps the NHS, even if only in a small way, then it's worthwhile doing.”


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