Any clinician or ATP who has recommended or built a wheelchair seating system knows the real wild card is the consumer. Once he or she is away from the clinic or rehab facility and real life begins — will your client remember to recline as often as you recommended? Will he tilt back a sufficient number of degrees? Will she hold that position long enough for it to be clinically effective?
For every client who makes no concerted effort to adhere to your recommendations, there are many more who intend to follow your suggestions, but fall short throughout the day. They overestimate the number of degrees they tilt back or the number of minutes they stay in that position.
That’s why Permobil’s March announcement at the International Seating Symposium (ISS) in Vancouver, B.C., was so exciting. The complex rehab power chair manufacturer has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories to introduce the Virtual Seating Coach.
For some time, manufacturers have been able to program a power chair’s electronics to remember how far back its user is supposed to tilt, and to give the consumer an audible “Time to tilt!” reminder.
But the Seating Coach system, which works via a smartphone app, goes to the next level by “mentoring” seating system clients via real-time feedback. Among the Coach’s abilities:
- Indicating the proper sequence of power positioning functions: e.g., tilt first, then recline.
- Showing the client when he has achieved the prescribed tilt or recline angle and when he has stayed in that position long enough per his clinician’s recommendations.
- Displaying current tilt, recline, legrest and seat elevator positions.
- Reminding clients when to perform weight shifts.
Clinicians are able not just to record their positioning recommendations, but also can track whether clients are achieving their positioning goals and how they’re falling short. That gives clinicians the chance to intervene in a more timely manner.
And rather than being just an alarm clock, the Seating Coach is able to take other factors into account: If the chair is in motion (i.e., riding in a motor vehicle) or the client just performed a weight shift, the Seating Coach won’t prompt another one.
One of the most tantalizing abilities of the Seating Coach is collecting and storing data on clients’ positioning activities. Clinicians could conceivably provide funding sources with statistics on how often clients achieved their positioning goals. Clinicians could also collect data over time that could be cross referenced with improved outcomes for consumers: healthier skin, fewer pressure sores, fewer surgical interventions.
Those applications will take time to achieve, but at ISS, Permobil reps were already talking about the opportunity to collect data that could benefit the entire industry and the community of wheelchair users. And in the mean time, the Virtual Seating Coach has plenty to offer individual wheelchair users: Permobil has licensed the Virtual Seating Coach technology from Pittsburgh and expects to roll it out soon.