Is telehealth's next step avatars for patients in rehabilitation?

Animated avatars may be the next big thing in telehealth, helping reduce healthcare costs without jeopardizing patient care or eliminating jobs, according to orthopedic surgeon Mary O'Connor, MD, and cited in an American Medical Association blog post.

Reflexion Health built Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation, a digital therapy platfor that integrates prescription rehabilitation exercise, an avatar coach called Vera, a 3D imaging system for audio-visual feedback and other capabilities including automatic report generation. At New Haven, Conn.-based Yale School of Medicine, VERA demonstrated increased patient engagement and improved prescription exercise adherence.

Vera is set up in the patient's home and records how often and for how long patients do their exercises. The avatar also measures how accurately the patient performed the exercises and how much the patient improves.

Fifty patients enrolled in the tele-rehabilitation pilot study. Patients had between four and six face-to-face therapy sessions and did daily rehabilitation at home with Vera.

Dr. O'Connor compared data from patients who only went to physical therapy in person against data from patients who receive tele-rehabilitation. Results showed the 30-day and 90-day readmission rates were not significantly different. There was a near identical care of emergency department visits at the 90-day mark.

Patients have also responded well to the avatar, with 91.2 percent approving the care program.

"Physical therapy with a physical therapist is a resource-heavy model," Dr. O'Connor said, according to the blog post. "When the patient can do routine exercises on their own with guidance and support through tele-rehabilitation, you are going to lower your costs. It doesn't eliminate the need for skilled physical therapists, but it is an extender of physical therapy."

More articles on telehealth:
AdventHealth implements remote monitoring telemedicine tech in ICU
Allina Health, Hayward Area Memorial partner for telemedicine stroke treatment
5 things to know about telehealth fraud

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