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Wheelchair Seating and Tele-health

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

This past week I caught up with Genevieve Jamin, our clinical lead for our wheelchair seating module, to discuss how tele-health has impacted her work. Genevieve is an occupational therapist who has 12 years of experience working with clients who require advanced seating and wheelchairs. Her passion for seating has led her to work towards improving the accessibility of seating services. Three years ago she began working with AHS as the coordinator for the Edmonton Zone Seating Service, a community based seating clinic in the Edmonton Zone.

One of the goals of the clinic is to expand the reach of their services. Alberta’s North Zone is challenging because of the lack of clinicians and long travel times, which mean clients needing wheelchair seating can face a wait time of nearly two years. Genevieve works to offset this wait time by having clinicians more spread out instead of concentrated in the city. She has also developed online wheelchair prescription courses which have become the gold standard in Alberta. To help in her goal of reaching more clients she has also been using tele-health technologies, even before the onset of the pandemic.

Genevieve tells me that while she began doing virtual assessments pre-COVID that since the pandemic began she has been using it even more. The sudden need for tele-health has meant many new and rapid technology improvements. Before the pandemic, Genevieve’s virtual assessments happened in a dedicated room with one fixed camera where the equipment couldn’t be moved. It was a bit of a struggle to access the room, get the necessary camera angles needed for assessment, and have a strong connection. Despite these challenges, this work set the stage for the drive to virtual assessment technologies COVID-19 would spur onwards.

Because Genevieve already had access to written protocols and procedures, she described the transition to tele-health with Tele-Rehab 2.0 as a seamless transition. With the pandemic and our project Genevieve has gained access to better technologies like The Double robot. Genevieve says The Double has been especially helpful so that she can get the angles she needs without disturbing the assessment or the need for a second person to man the camera.

The difference tele-health makes in Genevieve’s, and other clinicians’ work, is immense. Tele-health presents an opportunity to reduce wait times, reach more clients, and improve the quality of assessments, and that’s just on the clinician side of things. Patients reap the benefits of more accessible care without hidden travel costs, and getting the care they need sooner. The Alberta North Zone struggles to retain clinicians and is inaccessible, but with tele-health it allows clinicians like Genevieve to be present. Occupational therapists are more and more in demand. Tele-health helps to address this demand, expand their reach, and bring expertise to places it may not have existed before.

Tele-health is making a big difference specifically in the area of wheelchair and seating. Genevieve shared that wheelchair options used to be very limited, but today the amount of product for wheelchairs available to the public is mind blowing - there is a wheelchair which has 246 unique configurations! This increase in options means that clinicians need to step up their game to make sure patients are getting the best seating, and that all these options are available to them. Tele-health makes the connection between patient and clinician quick and easy so that patients are able to get the chair that works best for them, instead of choosing an ill-fitting chair due to lack of resources, expertise, or time.

The support for patients, clinicians, and the community are all strengthened by the use of tele-health. It is easy for the few clinicians in rural areas to feel isolated and frustrated with a lack of resources. Tele-Rehab 2.0 can empower rural clinicians by giving them the support they need with access to a larger knowledge base, more resources, and more time for each patient. This can make a huge difference for patients. For example, Genevieve shared how crucial proper wheelchair seating is for children. Improper seating at a young age can lead to irreversible deformities when they are older. Tele-health is making a difference for patients young and old, and clinicians both in both rural and urban communities.

One of the major challenges that we foresee once the pandemic is over is that the use of virtual health services will drop off again. As we continue to advocate for its continued use I am reassured by the feedback from clinicians like Genevieve. For her, there is no question that tele-health will continue. The Edmonton Zone Seating Service plans to continue offering services virtually after the pandemic ends, and I think many other clinicians will too. Tele-health enables clinicians to reach patients which live far away and allows them to receive care they need timely and effectively. The increased reach and quality care it provides make a case to keep tele-health around. For Genevieve tele-health is coming, it is here, and it is here to stay. Tele-health is the future of healthcare.

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