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Online tool helps therapists find right treatment

A team led by Dr Priscilla Harries and Dr Kenneth Gilhooly from Brunel's School of Health Sciences and Social Care has developed a ground-breaking online tool to help novice occupational therapists decide on the best treatments for their patients.

The team researched among 40 experienced therapists to discover how they prioritised their patient referrals. Their decisions were used to develop a statistical model, showing how they used the information they had on each patient to decide how and in what order they should be treated.

A careful process of expert validation, and testing of the treatments selected against professional directives on service delivery, was used to develop an optimal set of best practice referral prioritisation policies. These were then translated into a web-based training package for novice therapists.

In trials, this package has proved very effective in improving the quality of decisions made by inexperienced therapists. It has been widely adopted in the UK's National Health Service, and is credited with significant improvements in the quality and efficiency of the work done by NHS occupational therapists.

Internationally, the training tool is also being used in Australia, and clinicians in New Zealand are working with Dr Harries to develop a bespoke package for their practitioners, based on the work done in the UK.

One novice clinician summed up reactions to the package, by saying: "Thanks for letting me use your web tool. It's a brilliant idea and I am very glad to have had the chance to use it. I have learnt a lot and it has given me so much to think about."