Working with patients remotely in a time of social distancing

UAlberta course improves access to telerehabilitation services

Rob Curtis - 26 March 2020

As the world orients itself to a sudden and unprecedented time of social distancing, the question arises: how do you treat a patient when you can't see them in person?

More and more people, including rehabilitation professionals, are discovering remote working tools as they shift to working from home. But treating patients remotely is more complex than just firing up a video chat and conducting business as usual. Telerehabilitation requires new strategies, tools and processes. The University of Alberta is launching an online course that will equip clinicians to begin treating more patients remotely.

"Tele-care has been a growing service in all areas of health care," says Bernadette Martin, associate dean of professional programs and strategic initiatives in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. "COVID-19 has now led more people to try to figure out what can be done when you cannot be in the same room as a patient, and has increased the need to adopt this kind of care approach."

In some cases, the technology itself can offer new possibilities, such as offering appointments that allow observation of the patient by an occupational therapist in the home setting and educating a family member to be able to assist the patient effectively.

Luckily, clinicians don't have to start from scratch. A substantial body of evidence exists around telerehabilitation practice, and work has been done on related topics such as confidentiality and privacy.

"Participants will be given essential background information on the evidence, policies, guidelines and technology they need to deliver remote care," says instructor Daniel Gillespie. "They will also have access to an online clinical platform to practice delivering telerehabilitation services first-hand."

While this course is developing skills that are much-needed in the short term, the impacts will last long after the COVID-19 response has passed, Martin points out. "More therapists will feel comfortable using the technology, and we'll see telerehab integrated in care. This will mean much easier access for patients, especially those who live in remote areas."

Though we are distancing, many clients still need to keep their rehabilitation programs going. For example, a person with a language impairment can still meet with their speech-language pathologist, or a person recovering from joint surgery can connect with their physiotherapist to ensure they are exercising properly to achieve the best possible outcome. Telerehabilitation allows rehabilitation professionals to continue to provide the care Albertans and Canadians so desperately still need during this unprecedented time.

More information about course content and registration can be found at