A new project is looking at the best ways to deliver remote treatment for people with long-term physical conditions, and those recovering from COVID-19.
As a result of the pandemic and reduced access to face-to-face appointments, there has been a significant drop in the number of face to face assessments being carried out, and in the delivery of hands-on rehabilitation, leading many patients to be treated remotely.
A one-year project, led by the University of Plymouth and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is seeking to address these issues through the creation of a toolkit and training package for current and future clinicians. Professor of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Jenny Freeman will be running the project with collaborators from the University’s Faculty of Health, the University of Warwick, and partners in NHS Trusts and the social care sector across the region.
Telerehabilitation for COVID-19 recovery
Many patients, particularly those shielding because of health vulnerabilities, have had no face-to-face input over the whole of the COVID-19 period, and the need for rehabilitation has also increased as those recovering from the disease begin their journeys back to health.
This has caused a huge increase in demand for ‘telerehabilitation’, a form of telehealth where assessment and treatment is carried out remotely. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has described as ‘a tidal wave of rehabilitation need’, however, because of the lack of established guidance and support, clinicians have had to creatively adapt their working practices on an individual basis, leading to inconsistency and potential inequity in the way care is delivered.
The project will build on the expertise in digital health found in the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology.
Professor Freeman said: “Imagine your elderly mother has a fall. Without a face-to-face appointment, how do you assess things like her quality of movement and balance? There may be safety concerns, and other factors such as the need for a good quality internet connection.
“Assessment is absolutely key to being able to deliver a targeted intervention – if you don’t have a clear idea about people’s baseline abilities or how they are changing then it’s difficult to effectively plan and progress someone’s treatment. This research captures people recovering from the coronavirus, but also the much greater number of people with other, pre-existing conditions who have not been receiving treatment for an extended period of time.”
COVID-19 can result in a number of disabilities that would need rehabilitation due to post-intensive care syndrome to deconditioning, fatigue, and weakness as a result of prolonged immobility. These symptoms can be similar to those of people with long-term conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes.
In the elderly population, this can contribute to frailty and predispose to falls, and all these effects require rehabilitation for patients to achieve as full a recovery as possible.
Professor Freeman added: “Rehabilitation is crucial for improving people’s quality of life and if there is one positive to come out of this situation, it is that people are now recognising this fact.”