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Accreditation Innovation in a Pandemic

September 25th, 2020

Leanne Percy

General Manager - Accreditation

Australian Physiotherapy Council

It has been said that a crisis can provide opportunities and choice — this is true of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Council’s ability to deliver its accreditation services. Some accreditation authorities around the world chose to suspend accreditation activities, and may have had very good reasons for this. However, the Council chose to consult with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia (PhysioBA) and the Council of Physiotherapy Deans Australia and New Zealand (CPDANZ), to deliver a remote accreditation solution for the 10 Universities who had accreditation and re-accreditation processes scheduled for this year. This facilitated these universities to proceed with their future plans with certainty.

With interstate travel restrictions preventing Accreditation Assessment Panels from undertaking site visits, the challenge for the Council was how to manage the assessment of the education provider and program without compromising the integrity of the accreditation process. The Council offered a choice of extending existing accreditation periods for 12 months and postponing the process for the new applicants, or proceeding with a modified process. All but one university decided to continue.

It was agreed that the path of least disruption for the universities would be to conduct the site visits virtually.  This would enable universities to continue with their accreditation cycles and in times of financial pressures avoid the travel costs associated with a face-to-face site visit.

The Council looked to other accreditation authorities in Australia and overseas to benchmark its virtual site visit process, and implemented the following protocols to ensure consistency and maintain standards:

  • The Panel members and Council staff member meet virtually prior to the visit to plan questions and management of the meeting schedule.
  • The virtual site visit must follow the same meetings schedule that would have been implemented in a face to face visit. i.e. the opportunity to meet with Senior Executive, Head of Program, Quality Assurance staff, Subject Co-ordinators, Teaching Staff, Technical and Support Staff, Clinical Education Manager, representatives from the External Advisory Group, Clinical Educators and Students.
  • The site visit schedule must take into account the different time zones for the panel members and the university location.
  • The technology to be used should be facilitated and supported by the University. The University will set up all meetings in accordance with the agreed schedule. The Council will set up a separate and private break out Zoom facility for the panel members to discuss their findings throughout the visit.
  • A contingency plan should be in place in the event of technology failure – such as access to the Council’s teleconference service.
  • A virtual tour of the facilities should be included as part of the visit. This could be a live walking tour or a pre-recorded video or photos. For new education providers a member of the panel will physically visit the facilities at a future date when interstate travel permits. This will be a condition of accreditation.

Anecdotal feedback from the Universities and the panel members was that the virtual site visits were effective and less expensive than the traditional face-to-face visits. More formal feedback will be collected when the accreditation cycles have been completed in October 2020.

Rapid changes are not typical in the regulatory space. The Council’s approach to managing these changes whilst balancing risk and ensuring quality, and the willingness of accreditation panel members and education providers to adapt has enabled the continuance of accreditation processes during a period of disruption and challenging circumstances. The innovation will potentially influence the accreditation process beyond the pandemic.

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