Telehealth lifeline for people living with spinal cord injuries

Thursday, 10 September, 2020

Telehealth lifeline for people living with spinal cord injuries

Hayley Sands’ life changed forever seven years ago when she dived into a pool and suffered a whiplash injury that resulted in tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia). The 20-year-old student spent seven months in hospital and had a number of surgeries on her hands and back. While Hayley has feeling in her whole body, she is unable to move it, except for some basic movement in her hands. She can’t feel temperature and does not have access to lateral support.

Hayley received initial physio treatment at the hospital, but there were limitations to how far she could progress as the therapists were mainly used to working with paraplegics. Thankfully, one of her friends told her about a program called NeuroMoves, an innovative and critical exercise and therapy service for hundreds of people across Australia, predominantly those with spinal cord injuries. Run by Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) and covered by the NDIS, the program is essential for many to improve their quality of life through maximising mobility, function and independence.

“The NeuroMoves program has made a huge difference to my life,” Hayley said.

“I have now been going for the past five years at least once a week for two hours. It has significantly improved my seated balance and overall strength so I can do things such as more easily transfer from my bed to a chair, or from my chair to my car. I like how the program is specifically tailored to me and focuses on practical physical and social goals, enabling me to be more independent.”

Prior to COVID-19 the program was conducted via face-to-face therapy sessions at the 16 SCIA centres across the country — its existence was significantly threatened by the impact of the pandemic. At the end of March, SCIA took the difficult decision to suspend face-to-face therapy sessions.

SCIA CEO Dianne Lucas said, “Like so many organisations, we had to rethink how we provided our services in such a short period of time. We weren’t sure how we could continue to provide these critical services to our clients, or continue to provide employment for all of our therapists.”

Hayley was naturally concerned when the restrictions around COVID-19 happened.

“I was worried about how I could maintain my strength while not being able to attend the gym. It is very easy to deteriorate quickly if you don’t maintain your form. It wasn’t possible for me to do regular online classes like my friends,” Hayley said.

SCIA approached telehealth service GPNow about rapidly migrating its NeuroMoves program online. With the team working around the clock, GPNow was able to bring the team of over 50 therapists and more than 200 NeuroMoves clients on board in less than nine days. For context, this migration had previously been scoped at 90 days. GPNow is currently facilitating more than 150 sessions per day for NeuroMoves.

“We worked very closely with the GPNow team to rapidly bring NeuroMoves online. For us it was important to use a purpose-built platform and a dedicated digital-health technology that offers security and can provide reporting to assist with audits and NDIS requirements.

“We thought we might get 25% uptake of the telehealth NeuroMoves program, but it has actually almost been 50%!” Dianne said.

“Our therapists love the platform and our clients are of course very pleased to be able to continue their sessions at home. They have told us how surprised they are to be able to perform so many different exercises with so little equipment.”

Hayley jumped at the chance to participate in the telehealth NeuroMoves program.

“Doing NeuroMoves online through GPNow was so easy and enabled me to continue to do cardio and weights with an exercise physiologist or physio one on one in the comfort of my own home. The whole program is covered by NDIS and it helped me to keep a routine, social connection and some sense of normalcy,” Hayley said.

“As restrictions ease, I am keen to continue doing the program online at least once a week, or if the weather is bad!”

GPNow CEO Robert Hicken is proud of what they were able to achieve for SCIA in such a short period of time.

“Working with SCIA has been a perfect fit for us because our focus is specifically on purpose-built digital health consultation platforms to service communities with specific needs. I believe our dedication to client relationships sets us apart from other providers that are more about scale.

“Our platform is a trusted environment to maintain that important connection with clients and patients. We’re keen to work with similar communities that have specific needs we can help with.”

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