For children in remote communities, obtaining care for physical impairments can be challenging. Soon, a new program will change that for some youngsters: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has awarded the University of California Davis Department of Pediatrics a $2 million, five-year grant to set up a tele-physiatry project for children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities. Physiatry uses physical medicine and rehabilitation techniques to improve the quality of life and functional ability of individuals with physical impairments.
Patients in underserved rural areas often lack access to qualified specialists due to the physiatrist’s inability to travel, insufficient training among local physicians, or the inconvenience or inability of the family to travel to the physiatrist’s office. In many cases, sending physiatrists to remote communities is inefficient and expensive since travel time and costs must be taken into consideration.
The School-Based Tele-Physiatry Assistance for Rehabilitative and Therapeutic Services (STARS) program will explore whether telemedicine can be used effectively as a way to provide physiatry care, starting with schools in five counties. Specialists will guide screening remotely and write referrals and prescriptions as needed to prevent common injuries such as hip dislocation. The study will compare the quality of care, patient-centeredness, and costs for three cohorts: those receiving in-person care from physiatrists, those receiving in-person care from non-physiatrists, and those receiving care via telemedicine from physiatrists. Ultimately, the researchers are hoping that with tele-physiatry, a patient’s outcome will no longer depend on the distance from his home to the children’s hospital.
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