ABOUT TELE-REHAB 2.0
Why is this project important?
Over 4.5 million Canadians access care for arthritis each year. 1 in 5 Canadians over the age of 65 experience a fall each year, often resulting in hospitalization. Wait times for specialist shoulder assessments exceed 18 months. Alberta has one of the highest incidences of multiple sclerosis in the world. These examples of chronic, debilitating neuro-musculoskeletal conditions require specialized assessments to ensure treatments are effective.
The fact is that rural communities do not have access to the same expert care as urban communities. Approximately a quarter of Alberta's population lives in rural settings while non-physician experts congregate in urban centres. This has led to an unacceptable inequity in our healthcare system. Residents in rural communities face significant barriers to accessing necessary specialized appointments. Personal costs include taking time off work, separation from support systems, needing to arrange for childcare, and travel costs, not to mention the risk to safety when travelling in winter conditions. These challenges can in turn prevent rural community residents from getting the care they need, as often as they need. When patients aren’t able to access the care they need this can worsen their conditions or cause other issues like chronic pain or loss of function. The need for a better system is clear.
Through Tele-Rehab 2.0 we are enabling rural communities to receive the same or better quality of care as urban communities. We are closing the gap and creating equality in healthcare services no matter where you live. Telerehabilitation works. We have been working with clinicians and clients in rural communities since July 2020 and have received great feedback. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for virtual care, and provided our project an opportunity to show why the new normal of virtual health is here to stay. Connecting with clinicians virtually means more of us can access the care we need, and deserve.
Tele-Rehab 2.0 provides the accessibility and support of urban clinicians that rural communities have long lacked. We are able to get patients the care they need from their own community, provide mentorship to rural clinicians, and expand the reach and impact of urban clinicians. Tele-Rehab 2.0 means your healthcare is about you, not where you live.
How can we provide virtual, equitable access to care for all?
Tele-Rehab 2.0 proposes using technology to connect rural communities and their local clinician with urban expert clinicians. Our platform is unique in that it is a clinic-to-clinic model; that is, instead of connecting patients to an expert clinician from home, patients benefit from the support of their local clinician by going to their local health care centre to connect with the expert clinician. Our suite of technologies provides the hub clinician with all the information they need to make a comprehensive assessment. This approach means that both the expert and local clinicians are in the same (virtual) place at the same time with the patient, which enables a collaborative and educational approach where both the local clinician and the patient are more involved. Patients have reported feeling more connected to their care pathway using Tele-Rehab 2.0.
As the project has grown we have been able to see just how much it was needed. Tele-Rehab 2.0 has huge potential and it just keeps growing. Initially we started as a pilot project with four focus areas in four different sites, but along the way have had the opportunity to serve other locations or populations like seniors in supportive living facilities. Currently, we are working with Alberta Health Services to trial an additional 10 sites across the province as part of our AICE Validate grant. The success of this trial will help pave the way for more widespread adoption of Tele-Rehab 2.0 across Alberta.
What treatments and assessments will be provided?
The initial four areas of focus in the project are severe shoulder pain, hip and knee replacement follow up appointments, vertigo and balance assessments, and wheelchair special seating and assessment. We have also recently added a falls risk assessment focus and will soon being rolling out a long COVID module as well. 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 experiences and outcomes to help us verify that the Tele-Rehab 2.0 process is effective.