Why is this project important?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for virtual care as social distancing requirements have forced clinics to close and halted in-person assessments. The pandemic has also demonstrated the relevance of tele-health. Clinicians have been effectively caring for their patients through phone and video calls since physical distancing was implemented. This new normal of healthcare has also shown the benefits of virtual care, including ease of access and extended reach. COVID-19 has presented our project with an opportunity to show Albertans why tele-rehabilitation is needed, and why it is here to stay.

Both rural and urban patients have been utilizing tele-health to get the care they need during this time, but as pandemic restrictions begin to relax rural patients will still need this technology. Rural and remote Albertans have many barriers to accessing rehabilitation care. Lack of funding, limited availability of specialists, and distance from quality services are only some of the issues that rural and remote patients must overcome. These patients have to travel long distances to access the same services that urban residents have in their own backyards. Not only does this travel cost money, but rural patients also lose out on the support of their communities, have to take time off of work, and often have to arrange for child care. This creates an inequality in our healthcare services based only on where you live. In 2020, this is unacceptable.

As COVID-19 progressed, we realized seniors in long term care facilities had an especially strong need for tele-rehabilitation. Seniors in long term care facilities have especially strict restrictions due to their high-risk status. In most cases, visitation has been eliminated, seniors have not been able to leave their facility, and many essential rehabilitation appointments have been delayed or cancelled. During this time while our seniors are especially vulnerable to the virus, they still need rehabilitation care to maintain quality of life and prevent loss of function. Tele-Rehab 2.0 allows them to receive this care safely. Pandemic restrictions will likely remain in place for seniors until a vaccine is available, even as other communities lift restrictions. This means that the need for tele-rehabilitation services will remain for these facilities much longer than the rest of Alberta. Additionally, the need for tele-rehabilitation services in rural long term care facilities will exist long past the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, our team has extended this project to include long term care facilities. 

How can we provide virtual, equitable access to care for all Albertans?

Tele-Rehab 2.0 proposes using technology to connect rural and remote Albertans and seniors and their local clinician with urban specialists. Our idea hinges on the development of a Virtual Rehabilitation Platform (VRP), designed to combine video conferencing with data from different sensors. This software will allow any general clinician to perform these specialized rehabilitation assessments, while being supervised digitally by a specialist clinician in our hub location. We have selected and crafted our technology specifically to mimic an in-person assessment as closely as possible. This means that rural patients only need to go to their local clinic and senior patients did not have to leave their facilities to access the same quality rehabilitation services as urban patients.

What treatments and assessments will be provided?

The four areas of focus in the pilot project are severe shoulder pain, hip and knee replacement follow up appointments, vertigo and balance assessments, and wheelchair special seating and assessment. Our Tele-Rehab 2.0 program will provide patients with specialized assessments for conditions in these categories, as well as home exercises and individualized training programs. We will track patient progress to help us verify that the Tele-Rehab 2.0 process is effective.