Rehabilitation professionals in nationwide survey cite barriers to assistive technology transfer

11/04/04

Expert View: "Assistive technology can transform millions of lives if we work together to deliver it to those in need."

New Orleans, November 5, 2004 – Despite an upsurge of remarkable advances in assistive technology during the past half-decade, offering new hope for people who desire improved function and independence, large numbers of these same people are being left behind, according to a national survey conducted by Clarkson University and Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network.

The findings, drawn from responses of more than 350 experts working in various aspects of assistive technology and rehabilitation, show that only one in 10 respondents thinks quality of life-enhancing assistive technology is readily available to the majority of the 49 million Americans living with disabilities. Nearly three-quarters of respondents feel that advances in assistive technology lag behind those in other medical and health technologies.

The survey, called "Barriers to Assistive Technology Transfer in Society" (BATTS), pointed to four key barriers preventing people from benefiting from many of the latest assistive technology products: continued funding challenges; lack of public awareness about technology's potential and availability; a shortage of trained experts; and poor collaboration among researchers, clinicians and users.

Sally Gammon, President and Chief Executive Officer of Allentown, Pa.-based Good Shepherd, who presented the survey findings today at the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association Educational and Leadership Conference in New Orleans, said that while progress is being made in assistive technology transfer, these efforts are falling short.

"Assistive technology can transform millions of lives if we work together to deliver it to those in need," said Ms. Gammon. "Many people don't have to be homebound, or unemployed, or limited to being cared for in an institution. A wealth of assistive technology options are out there, but many aren't learning about the products, or are finding it difficult to get them."

Gammon continued, "Why, when today's technology offers the potential of unprecedented levels of independent living, are so many people missing out? Money is always going to be a problem. There is certainly not enough research funding trickling down to institutions. But there are things we can do as an industry to increase research and development funding, and to attack the myriad other barriers that are preventing innovative technology from getting to the people who need it."

Good Shepherd, located in eastern Pennsylvania, is a regional rehabilitation provider with a long heritage of providing the latest assistive technology to ensure that people can achieve improved function and independence. Together with Clarkson University, an independent technological university in Potsdam, New York, Good Shepherd designed a scientific survey aimed at rehabilitation professionals who are directly involved in the day-to-day work of technology transfer to determine if progress is being made in assistive technology transfer.

Survey Findings

The survey was distributed to rehabilitation and biomedical engineers from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) and physicians from the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP). Results were derived from a statistically representative national sample of experts – 242 physiatrists and 113 rehabilitation engineers – who identified four key barriers to assistive technology transfer:

Low research funding

  • Three-quarters of respondents believe both private sector and federal funding for assistive technology are inadequate compared to funding for other healthcare research.
  • Of respondents, only 15% say that the level of funding at their institution increased during the past two years, and 38% say they don't even know if funding had changed at their institutions.

Lack of awareness

  • Three out of five believe education, awareness and interest in assistive technology need to be improved. One in five feels that this effort is virtually non-existent.
  • Two-thirds agree that improved education of consumers and providers would be among the best ways to enhance utilization of assistive technology.

Shortage of trained experts

  • Nearly nine in 10 believe that not enough students are entering the field of assistive technology, due to lack of awareness about the profession or society's need for technology, as well as inadequate compensation and benefits.

Lack of collaboration

  • Three-quarters agree that people with disabilities have some, but not enough, input during the development of assistive technology. 5% say people with disabilities have virtually no input at all.
  • Nearly two-thirds believe there isn't enough best-practice sharing among professionals.

Plan for Improving Technology Transfer

To heighten the focus on improving patient outcomes and quality of life, Ms. Gammon offered a series of recommendations, which were drawn from the collective opinions of survey respondents, Clarkson University researchers and physical therapists and from examples of ongoing initiatives throughout the country.

1. Get the 800-pound gorilla on board. Keep the pressure on, and work together to enlist federal government support for coverage of every single piece of technology a person needs to function more independently and have a better quality of life.

2. Design products with mass appeal. Incorporate more universal design principles in research to broaden the application of new products and devices. Attract interest from manufacturers and venture capitalists by making assistive technology more commercially viable, and convince investors of the broader pool of technology users beyond "the disabled."

3. Establish funding partnerships. Find new and different funding partners to collaborate on technology research. Seek out opportunities with community donors, universities and government, e.g., the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

4. Demonstrate a return on investment. Foster concrete, measurable outcomes that demonstrate assistive technology's economic benefits, e.g., cost savings and improved quality of life.

5. Reach out to consumers. Ensure that consumers have access to the most current knowledge and technology, and expand their opportunities to test the products they're using. Technology fairs with interactive product demonstrations and stores that feature "one-stop-shopping" allow consumers to explore the latest technology options and meet with trained experts who can assess their needs.

6. Recruit more people into the field. Enlist prospective students for physical therapy and rehabilitation engineering careers by reaching out to high schools and college campuses in the community. Educate students about the benefits of an undergraduate degree in rehabilitation engineering and a master's in physical therapy, which may provide a wider range of potential career choices.

7. Convene an electronic national forum. Launch a national assistive technology forum online, composed of providers, educators, researchers, payers, manufacturers, the government, and –importantly – technology users themselves.

"Activities like these are important not only to our patients and communities, but also to the larger national and international community, and to our industry as a whole," said Ms. Gammon. "If we are committed to working together and sharing our best practices, we can implement change with unprecedented unity, vision and determination, and make greater function, dignity and independence more than just a dream for millions of Americans."

Good Shepherd and Clarkson University have partnered and developed assistive technology devices and will continue to work closely, identifying needs and developing technology that will help people overcome obstacles that otherwise would keep them from working and enjoying many aspects of life.

"Our partnership with Good Shepherd is built upon the collaborative efforts of world-class engineers and leading physical therapists working together to help people achieve greater independence," said Anthony G. Collins, Clarkson University President. "We're proof positive that academia, healthcare providers and industry can join forces to facilitate effective assistive technology transfer and allow consumers to more readily tap into the reservoir of available technology options."

About the Survey

The Barriers to Assistive Technology Transfer in Society (BATTS) Survey was the first study of a statistically valid national sample of rehabilitation professionals to use a rigorous, scientific approach to assess barriers to assistive technology transfer. HCD Research, Inc. (HCD), a marketing research and medical information company headquartered in Flemington, NJ, conducted the survey, an electronic, Internet-based questionnaire consisting of 30 multiple-choice and open-ended questions. A statistically valid sample of 355 professionals responded.

About Clarkson University

Fulfilling its mission to serve humanity through technology, Potsdam, NY-based Clarkson University has embraced rehabilitation engineering and the benefits it promises to bring to people with physical needs. Clarkson's collaboration with Good Shepherd provides a significant avenue for its researchers and therapists to deliver real-world practical applications for the devices and technology discovered in its laboratory.

About the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network

Founded in 1908, Good Shepherd is a world-class rehabilitation network that provides comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services throughout Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. Good Shepherd provides state-of-the-art technology for individuals in need of greater independence and productivity with the ability to participate more fully in society.

Click here to view Sally Gammon's presentation, relevant fact sheets, bios and other information about the (BATTS) survey http://goodshepherdrehab.org/news-events/technology-survey/.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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