Rehabilitation services delivered over the Internet and through other telecommunication networks allow health care professionals to reach more patients in need, but there has been some concern that so-called telerehabilitation doesn’t offer the same quality of care as in-person treatment.
Now a new study by Canadian researchers at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care shows there is no need to worry.
The findings, published in the journal Aphasiology, show that stroke patients who received speech language therapy over the Internet saw significant improvements in their communication skills, similar to those of patients receiving in-person treatment.
These important findings may give the green light for more widespread use of telerehabilitation, particularly for rural stroke patients suffering from stroke-related communication disorders.
“People with communication disorders, such as aphasia, are often provided with therapy only for the first few months after they have been diagnosed, despite evidence that therapy can benefit them for years,” said Dr. Jed Meltzer, lead author and neurorehabilitation scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.
“Location can limit a patient’s access to a speech-language pathologist, especially for individuals living in rural areas. Our study shows that telerehabilitation can remove this geographic barrier since participants saw similar recovery results.”
However, despite these similar improvements, the researchers were surprised to discover that patients who received telerehabilitation therapy weren’t as confident in their communication abilities compared to those who received in-person treatment.
“Low confidence can lead to continued isolation and it is important that patients be encouraged to find other ways to socially engage with others beyond their therapy,” said Meltzer.
Meltzer said speech-language pathologists should continue to play a critical role in the creation and supervision of treatment for patients while computer-based or tablet-based applications can help handle day-to-day treatment exercises.
For the study, the researchers evaluated 44 patients who had been suffering from a stroke-related communication problem for at least six months prior to recruitment. All participants received an in-person assessment and completed a language skills test in the first week of therapy.
Next, they were assigned either telerehabilitation or in-person treatment for 10 weeks. Once treatment was over, each participant completed a language skills test and a questionnaire. Their partners also provided feedback about the patient’s recovery.
“Older adults may face mobility issues and have a difficult time travelling to a specific location for treatment,” said Maria Piccini, M.A., a Baycrest speech-language pathologist who runs the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT®) eLOUD Clinic, which offers telerehabilitation programs for Parkinson’s patients.
“Telerehabilitation makes it easier for these individuals to access the therapy they need and improves their chances of completing the treatment.”