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Studies Provide Evidence Supporting Telehealth

Article originally featured on HME News

Two recent studies help to back up claims that using telehealth to provide complex rehab technology is equally as effective and, in many cases, patient preferred.

The first study, published in the International Journal of Rehabilitation, found that pre- and post-scores on the Functional Mobility Assessment questionnaire were similar for two groups receiving complex rehab wheelchairs: veterans with disabilities who were assessed by therapists using telehealth in the home; and a matched sample of non-vets who were assessed through traditional in-person methods. For a question on the FMA related to transfers, the study found scores were even higher for the telehealth group.

“The scores improved in both groups,” said Dr. Brad Dicianno, study investigator and medical director at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), which conducted the research with the University of Pittsburgh’s Rehabilitation Science and Technology Department. “But one other interesting finding was that the change in score for transfers was quite large for the telehealth group, which could have something to do with the benefits of telehealth in assessing transfers in a patient’s natural environment. We might be addressing transfers more effectively that way.”

The FMA, managed by UPitt and U.S. Rehab, is a patient-reported outcome questionnaire that assesses a person’s satisfaction in performing common mobility related activities of daily living, such as reaching, transfers and personal care tasks.

The second study, also published in the IJR, found not only that vets and providers were satisfied using telehealth for complex rehab technology but also that vets preferred it.

“There is a higher population of veterans living in rural areas compared to non-veterans,” said Mark Schmeler, an associate professor with the RSTD, “and having telehealth really helps to get specialty care to those rural areas. Maybe there’s a more efficient way to manage resources. Maybe you don’t need a wheelchair clinic everywhere in the country.”

The studies come at a crucial time for complex rehab stakeholders, who are trying to make the case to Congress that they need to give CMS the authority to permanently authorize physical therapists and occupational therapists as telehealth practitioners beyond the current public health emergency.

“Who benefits from this research,” Schmeler said. “If there’s a new treatment or approach, you need to know if you’re going to get the same or better results – from the patient, provider and policy perspective. We want to make sure it’s not just a way to increase utilization or shortcut best practices. These studies are the beginning of that process.”


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