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Telehealth Shows Promise for Wheelchair Users

June 21st, 2021

Telehealth or telemedicine, which allows patients to connect with healthcare providers via videoconference, has become more widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two recent studies expanded the use of telehealth to help veterans who use Complex Rehabilitation Technology (CRT), such as motorized wheelchairs. Results indicate that remote visits were effective in improving patient mobility and both participants and clinicians reported a high degree of satisfaction with remote clinical consultation.

The studies were a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Rehabilitation Science and Technology Department and the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), which is a partnership between VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, the University of Pittsburgh, and UPMC. Results published in the International Journal of Telerehabilitation show that telehealth can be effective in providing clinician consultation regarding Complex Rehabilitation Technology (CRT).

One of the studies compared 27 veterans receiving telehealth visits with 27 who were seen in the clinic setting. Mobility for both groups was measured using a tool called the Functional Mobility Assessment (FMA). Both groups experienced similar improvement in most FMA scores following clinician consultation, and the telehealth group showed more improvement in scores related to transferring in and out of wheelchairs, possibly because telehealth has the advantage of allowing clinicians to see what obstacles exist in patients’ homes, in real time.

The second study assessed veteran and provider satisfaction with remote assessment for wheelchair seating and mobility. Forty-three patients were seen remotely, and both patient and clinician satisfaction data were collected using the Telerehabilitation Questionnaire (TRQ). Results showed a high level of satisfaction with the remote consultation process in both groups.

Together, these studies indicate the promise of using telehealth platforms to help assistive technology users achieve better levels of mobility.

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