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Two Birds, One Stone

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

As May comes to a close and the project approaches the beginning of our trials our team is excited about the direction we are headed in. I have only just joined the team at the beginning of May, but I cannot wait to see what progress we make in the next few months. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Emily and I am a summer student working on communications and outreach for Tele-Rehab 2.0. This means I will be keeping the blog updated over the summer. You can expect to see new pieces from me every Monday!

Our last blog post was co-written by myself and my supervisor, Emily (having two Emilys can sometimes make meetings confusing, but we make a great team!). In that post, I talked (or typed rather) about how COVID-19 has brought about changes in the execution of our project. Today I want to tell you why this change is not only allowing us to serve an especially vulnerable population in these times, but also to complete our clinical trials and further our understanding of telerehabilitation. This will allow us to translate our process to other areas of need, in a post-COVID world. Let me tell you more about why seniors’ long term care facilities are the perfect place to pilot our project during this pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic we were focused on connecting rural and remote Albertans with telerehabilitation services, but as we learned more about the virus we realized by shifting our focus we could continue our work while providing aid to an extremely vulnerable population. Our original protocols could have put both patients and clients at risk, but by running our trials in long term care facilities there is no additional risk because these facilities already have rehabilitation staff in the building. Being able to test our protocols and technologies we have developed over the last 18 months is exciting and rewarding for our team, but also greatly benefits our seniors.

During the pandemic seniors’ rehabilitation care has been cast aside which is problematic in more ways than one. Because of pandemic restrictions, seniors have not been able to attend their regular face-to-face appointments for their rehabilitation care. This means that not only are seniors not getting the care they need, but these prolonged periods of time without care can worsen conditions or lead to other issues. These issues include loss of function, chronic pain, and increased risk of falling among others. Tele-Rehab 2.0 provides a way for seniors to continue receiving this necessary care and maintain their quality of life while still reducing exposure to the virus. In turn, the results of trials in long term care facilities will serve other groups after the pandemic diminishes.

As we have shifted our focus to seniors I have become aware of many similarities shared by seniors and rural patients. Isolation experienced by seniors during this pandemic is an extreme version of the isolation experienced by rural and remote Albertans. Both groups are separated from the majority of Albertans. This separation from others, and from proper rehabilitation services has been heightened with the pandemic. Many seniors have had important assessments delayed and have been without this essential care. Rural patients too are no stranger to forfeiting these assessments. Barriers such as travel, missing work, wait times, and additional costs of appointments such as gas or hotel stays have led many rural Albertans to go without the care they need. Both seniors and rural Albertans have a clear struggle to access quality rehabilitation services, which puts them at a disadvantage. These commonalities mean that the processes we establish now will be applicable to rural communities as well, once the effects of the pandemic are lessened.

Success in long term care facilities will demonstrate the effectiveness of telerehabilitation and make the case for its use outside of the pandemic. With our healthcare system currently strained, the spike in telemedicine is proof of how it has become part of our new normal. However, it will also be part of the normal we return to post-COVID.

We can be confident in the longevity of telehealth due to the way the pandemic has showcased the relevance of virtual health and telerehabilitation. More and more news articles are popping up about the benefits of virtual care, and many predict it will become commonplace after the pandemic. This is even more likely to be the case for seniors as preventative measures will remain intact for them until a vaccine is available, even as other communities begin to relax their own standards. When rural and remote Albertans return to life pre-COVID, they will also return to having to travel long distances to receive proper rehabilitation care. Both seniors and rural Albertans would continue to benefit from tele-rehabilitation long after the pandemic is over.

There has been a flurry of posts on social media promoting the idea of returning not just to normal, but to an improved normal in which we continue the positive things we have done during the pandemic. This includes taking more time for family or making time for hobbies. The expansion of quality care and greater accessibility to rehabilitation services for more Albertans via telerehabilitation is something we can add to that list. Telerehabilitation is the future. Today for our seniors in a pandemic, tomorrow for rural and remote Albertans everywhere.

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