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In-home rehabilitation therapy delivered via telemedicine can be just as effective a stroke recovery tool as clinic-based rehabilitation programmes, according to new research.
The study from the University of California, Irvine has shown that home-based support tools, delivered using a telehealth system and supervised by licensed occupational or physical therapists, can help stroke survivors to improve their arm motor status and enhance their overall quality of life.
For this research, 124 stroke survivors underwent six weeks of intensive arm motor therapy, with half receiving traditional in-clinic therapy and half receiving treatment in their own homes via a videoconferencing system.
When examined 30 days after the end of therapy, subjects receiving clinical treatment improved by 8.4 points on the Fugl-Meyer scale - which measures arm motor status - while subjects in the telerehab group improved by a very similar 7.9 points.
This is an important finding, given that demand for rehabilitation services and occupational therapy is likely to increase in the next few years, due to an ageing population and increased rates of stroke survival as healthcare provision evolves. Telehealth can potentially address this growing unmet need, allowing more patients to be treated in a way that minimises the burden on public health resources.
Dr Steven Cramer, a neurologist at the University of California, Irvine, also noted that telehealth has other benefits beyond its cost-effectiveness. He explained: "Getting patients to remain engaged and comply with therapy is a key measure of success of any rehabilitation programme.
"Greater gains are associated with therapy that is challenging, motivating, accompanied by appropriate feedback, interesting and relevant. Telerehab achieves this because therapy is provided through games, provides user feedback, can be adjusted based on individual needs, is easy to use - and is fun."
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
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