Leveraging Tele-Rehabilitation to Improve Public Health Outreach

By Preet Kukreja, Director, Population Health Initiatives, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and Kinshuk Saxena, Lead – Commercialization Strategy and Operations, Novartis
Kinshuk Saxena, Lead - Commercialization Strategy and Operations, Novartis
Kinshuk Saxena
Utilizing AI and Wearable Technology to Democratize Access to Physical Therapy in Underserved Populations through Tele-Rehabilitation

When it comes to rehabilitation services, distance and cost should not be barriers to care. Tele-rehabilitation uses technology to bridge these gaps, delivering vital rehab to those who need it most. With over 2 billion people worldwide living with disabilities, innovative solutions are essential. The research shows tele-rehab works, improving key outcomes like mobility and strength when compared to in-clinic care. And it does this at a lower cost to patients and healthcare systems. By combining tech tools like wearable sensors and artificial intelligence (AI), tele-rehab has huge potential to transform rehab delivery across the globe. It can bring specialized, effective care right to people’s homes, no matter where they live. This approach promotes health equity and can help meet the massive unmet need for rehabilitation.

Wearable technology and artificial intelligence are key catalysts that can help telerehabilitation live up to its potential for transforming rehabilitative care.

Wearable sensors like activity trackers and motion sensors provide real-time monitoring of patient movement and progress when integrated into tele-rehab programs. A recent study on telerehabilitation for elbow fractures used motion trackers and biofeedback devices to monitor joint mobility and provide visual feedback during remote therapy sessions, resulting in an improved range of motion.

The continuous stream of patient data from wearables enables the use of artificial intelligence and data analytics to personalize telerehabilitation in real-time. AI algorithms can analyze wearable data to track patient progress, adapt exercise difficulty, and provide feedback based on each patient’s capability and needs. For instance, a study on AI-assisted telerehabilitation systems for stroke survivors employed machine learning (ML) to analyze patient movement and automatically adjust the exercise difficulty to match their motor capabilities, thus enabling a more personalized rehabilitation experience.

Tele-rehabilitation, powered by wearables and AI, breaks down barriers to care, delivering personalized, cost-effective rehab and advancing public health goals.

By combining wearable technology and AI, telerehabilitation can deliver individualized therapy remotely while giving therapists crucial insights. This was highlighted as part of the AFTER (App-Facilitated Tele-Rehabilitation) program for COVID-19 survivors. Paolo Bonato, Ph.D., an Associate Faculty member at the Wyss Institute, underscored the significance of wearable technology in rehabilitation, stating that it is “suitable to accurately track motor recovery of individuals with brain injuries and thus allow clinicians to choose more effective interventions and to improve outcomes”. This assertion emphasizes the pivotal role of wearable technology, coupled with AI, plays in refining telerehabilitation strategies, making it a more precise and impactful approach to patient care.

Together, wearables and AI make telerehabilitation scalable and responsive to each patient’s progress. With further research, they can enable tele-rehab to fulfill its potential in transforming rehabilitation delivery.

How can telerehabilitation help us achieve public health goals?

Tele-rehabilitation helps to advance public health goals in rural and medically underserved areas by improving access to rehabilitation services. Research has shown that telerehabilitation interventions can successfully overcome geographical barriers to provide rural patients with essential rehabilitation care. One such study is published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare emphasizes that reducing healthcare inequities is a major public health goal that is directly aided by this increased accessibility.

Telerehabilitation has also been demonstrated to improve patient participation and adherence to treatment. Another comprehensive analysis suggests that telerehabilitation interventions consistently result in higher adherence rates than traditional in-person rehabilitation. In medically underserved areas, this is essential to obtaining improved health outcomes.

The average daily rehabilitation expenses per individual amounted to approximately $1,600, resulting in a total cost of around $46,000 per person. Another significant benefit of telerehabilitation is its low cost. There have been research studies which identified substantial per-person cost differences, ranging from $565.66 to $2,352 in savings. Tele-rehabilitation helps patients and optimizes resource allocation in healthcare systems by eliminating the need for lengthy travel and simplifying the delivery of care. Platforms for telerehabilitation frequently include data gathering and analysis, allowing for the creation of individualized care plans and evaluation of results. A recent study in the Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health, tele-rehabilitation highlighted the need for data-driven decision-making, which helps rural healthcare providers tailor their offerings to the unique requirements of their patient communities.

Furthermore, wearables and remote patient monitoring (RPM) tools are examples of cutting-edge technology solutions that support telerehabilitation. These developments give rehabilitation specialists additional ways to track patients’ progress and deliver timely treatments.

To summarize, telerehabilitation has a substantial impact on meeting public health objectives in underserved areas. Research continuously demonstrates how well it works to increase patient involvement, ensure cost-effectiveness, and improve access to care. In addition, it makes data-driven decision-making easier and makes use of cutting-edge technologies to offer complete rehabilitation services. To fully utilize telerehabilitation in addressing public health inequities in underprivileged communities, further research and policy assistance are required.

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