11 June. 2020
Virtual physiotherapy helping patients stay ‘on track’ during pandemic
In Toronto Rehab’s Brain Program, delayed access to rehabilitation can have serious consequences for neurorehabilitation patients, particularly as they transition home after inpatient rehabilitation.

In response to a complete disruption in outpatient therapy caused by COVID-19, the program has transitioned to providing therapy entirely virtually, primarily through videoconferencing. This allows patients who are living with the effects of stroke, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and congenital childhood disability to receive care while sheltering in place.

For Brain Program physiotherapist Nina Hovanec, the videoconferencing offers a unique perspective.

"Virtual rehab is like being invited into someone's home as guest, to see how they really engage with their environment," Nina says. "It is reassuring, motivating and vulnerable.

"Our rapid shift has challenged us to the full scope of our skills, but also emphasized that as much as physiotherapy is about physical touch, it is also so much more."

For patient such as Rita Vassallo, there are tradeoffs to working virtually with a therapist.

Rita appreciates that she doesn't have to travel for a session and can do a full hour "because I'm not so exhausted." But she admits "I do miss the closeness" as the response can be delayed in a virtual setting and she has to listen and focus much more closely as her and the therapist are not in the same room.

"It's a partnership and I am very grateful for it!" Rita says.

While other health professions at Toronto Rehab had offered virtual therapy prior to COVID-19, it's a new approach for physiotherapists. And, the response is very positive.

"As a community, we have really come together strongly to support each other, learn, share," Nina says. "Overall, we can see that we are making a change.

"Patients and families feel connected, feel valued, that their recovery matters, for those who would otherwise have no therapy after they leave inpatient rehab – and that is a real privilege."

Learn more about Toronto Rehab’s COVID-19 Response

In photo (UHN): Physiotherapist Nina Hovanec of the Brain Program at Toronto Rehab and Interim Lead of the Rocket Upper Extremity Clinic. 
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