For sure, silver linings have been few and hard to find during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Just as surely, the options of telehealth and remote service visits are the real deal.
That would have been great enough news even if telehealth (the term used for clinician visits) and remote service (for suppliers) lasted just for the length of the pandemic.
But the option of being able to remotely perform some parts of the seating and wheelchair assessment, equipment recommendation, fitting, home assessment, delivery, follow-up, etc., has tremendous value that goes well beyond the current public health emergency.
The pandemic made in-person clinic or home visits more difficult and potentially risky for people who use wheelchairs and complex seating. But in-person visits have never been easy for all people who use wheelchairs.
The truth is that complex seating and wheeled mobility remains a highly specialized industry, used by a very small number of clients compared to, for example, the percentage of the population that uses corrective glasses or contact lenses. The number of medical centers or clinics specializing in complex seating and wheeled mobility is therefore small. Even people living in large metropolitan areas might have to drive for hours to reach a complex seating and wheeled mobility clinic.
A new document from the Clinician Task Force underlines the immense value of telehealth options even after the pandemic. As “Clinician’s Guide to Use of Telehealth for CRT Service Provision” points out, “Medically fragile (at times referred to as “high-risk”) CRT [Complex Rehab Technology] consumers can remain in their own environments, reducing risk of exposure to pathogens and burden of travel. Those not near a specialty clinic offering wheelchair and seating services, as in rural areas, can be seen by a skilled clinician, improving product recommendations and outcomes, and reducing potential medically adverse effects of travel. Consumers near a wheelchair and seating clinic still may not be able to attend in-person appointments due to having unreliable transportation.”
This new paper notes that meeting in person for wheelchair assessments is still preferred. But in some situations, telehealth can actually have a distinct advantage. For example, watching clients use their wheelchairs in their own homes can demonstrate real-world challenges that clinicians and suppliers can then address.
Years from now, the 2020-21 pandemic may be remembered as the gateway to improved access to seating and mobility specialists because it’s when telehealth and remote services became accepted and encouraged. “Once upon a time, a person who needed a wheelchair had to somehow travel hundreds of miles, in person, to see a wheelchair specialist,” a future textbook might say. “Now, visiting with a skilled seating and wheeled mobility clinician or supplier can be as easy as clicking on an app or opening a laptop. Now, consumers have choices. And it took till 2020 for that to happen.”