“Virtual TAC meetings appear to have many benefits, hence it is worth considering their place in future service provision”
COVID-19 has dramatically changed how we work and deliver services to families. Overnight, professionals and parents had to learn how to navigate IT systems previously unknown. Almost five months after the government initially announced the lockdown, it is interesting to reflect on how this shift to virtual working has impacted service delivery, in particular how TAC meetings are conducted. What have we lost and what has been gained from moving the meetings onto a virtual platform?
Feedback from professionals and parents has been consistently positive with more gained than lost. Eliminating travel time to meetings and need to secure a suitable venue means meetings can be arranged on much shorter notice with the right people present; eliminating travel is also of financial benefit to families and both parents are now often able to attend as childcare can be managed alongside the meeting. It is also easier for parents to fit virtual meetings into their busy lives. Professionals who may not have attended, if unable to be present for the entirety of the meeting are now better able to contribute as they move virtually between commitments.
In addition to logistics, another significant positive outcome is an increased sense of equality among participants. Previously, meetings were often held in schools or clinics where parents were visitors, while professionals were in a familiar environment. Now all participants may be at home, which minimises a sense of hierarchy. Professionals and parents alike are seen enjoying a cup of tea from a personal mug and have been interrupted by a child or pet which connects us as humans on a different level. Parents have reported feeling more empowered to speak up in this less formal setting.
Concerns have been raised with regards to loss of the natural flow of conversation and non-verbal elements of communication if not face to face. This is particularly true if the platform used does not allow for all participants to be visible at the same time. Sharing the screen to view documents can further impede the visibility of attendees. Participants report needing to be more succinct and efficient when speaking as there is naturally less to and fro.
Although we do not want to lose the important human connection, we gain from being physically in the same place, overall moving TAC meetings onto virtual platforms has definite advantages. These advantages however can only be realised if certain criteria are met. The platform used must be easily accessible to parents with minimal amount of planning required. Having to download an app or set up an account can create barriers. All participants must use the same platform and ideally one that allows everyone to be visible. Having some team members on the phone, while others are on the screen negates any sense of equality gained. If parents do not have access to the same technology as professionals, parents will be at a definite disadvantage, not being able to ‘see’ the other participants. In setting up any TAC meeting ensuring parents have access to the technology is vital. In addition to the technology, it is helpful for participants to have any documents that will be shared prior to the meeting to minimise need for ‘screen sharing’, which then makes it more difficult to see people on the screen.
Our way of working continues to change and none of us know what the future holds. There have been many challenges in adapting to new ways of working but we must embrace what is working well and ensure this continues going forward. Virtual TAC meetings appear to have many benefits, hence it is worth considering their place in future service provision.
19th July 2020
By Annemarie Sims, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist, Children’s Neurosciences, Evelina London Children’s Hospital
and Karen Pratt, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Children’s Neurosciences, Evelina London Children’s Hospital