Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has emerged in the United States, Weisman Children's Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers made the important decision to suspend all in person outpatient services starting the week of March 23, 2020. Knowing the vast need for outpatient services would still be required by patients and families in the program, Weisman Children's team worked tirelessly to quickly switch the program to a Telehealth platform beginning March 25, 2020.
"It was very important to us to not have patients lose a lot of therapy time during this pandemic, but we also wanted to keep everyone safe and follow the recommendations of the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health. Telehealth was the obvious answer and we are very proud to be one of the first outpatient programs that began to offer these services to our families," said Corinne Taylor-Walls, PT, DPT, Director of Outpatient Services for Weisman Children's.
Taylor-Walls stated that starting the telehealth program as swiftly as possible allowed the program to grow quickly, along with the ability to have continuous refinements to improve the program every week. "Our families and our therapist have really bought in to telehealth which has in turn made it a really great success. Our therapy team talk to each other every day and share tips and ideas to find ways to improve the service constantly. We always want to give the patient the best experience possible."
"Telehealth is something that is new and everyone on our team has really embraced it," said Sarah Schuessler, Speech Language Pathologist and Clinical Site Manager for Weisman Children's Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Pennsauken, New Jersey. "We are growing clinically and professionally learning these techniques. Our goal is to give our patients and families the same experience they had when we were in person."
The Weisman Children's team has worked hard to make the telehealth experience as enjoyable, seamless, and engaging for patients and their families. Families are able to use their phones, computers, or tablets, whichever works best in their environment. A Weisman Children's scheduler reaches out to each family before every session to ensure they have the proper start time and password to access the meeting. A Weisman Children's coordinator is available to the family each session to help with any technical issues that may arise while connecting to their therapist.
Parent Veronica Oster, whose son Steven receives telehealth from Weisman Children's said that having the session at home allows for a more personalized session, "Telehealth has allowed us to do the activities during the sessions with things in our own home. This has made the carry over and continuing it through the rest of the week simple." Katharine Wilchek, a Physical Therapist for Weisman Children's agrees with this benefit of telehealth, "I really enjoy getting to see my families in their natural environment, seeing exactly what tools they are working with in their home helps me build a more personalized treatment plan for the patient because I am seeing exactly what they have at their disposal for daily use."
For some families the transition to telehealth has allowed them to experience their child's sessions in ways they never could before, which is the case for Stephanie Fish, whose daughter Anna is a Weisman Children's patient. "I have found telehealth to be very beneficial. Normally, my husband and I both work full time and commute to work, and Anna's grandfather took her to her outpatient sessions. Since we transitioned to telehealth, my husband and I have now been able to attend and participate in her sessions ourselves and it has been very helpful. Telehealth has allowed us to really get close with Anna's physical therapist and we enjoy getting to work together every week."
While telehealth has been successful, some families were unsure what to expect when the first agreed to the sessions. "At first I was unsure how much my son was going to get out of telehealth, and honestly I was worried about screen time. However, the sessions are structured so similarly to in person visits that my son is getting just as much out of telehealth that he was before. The screen time has not been an issue because telehealth is so interactive. Every week the therapists have fun ways to engage him and make it easy for him," Oster stated.
Fellow parent Michelle Hutchinson, whose son Zachary has been a patient with Weisman Children's Outpatient for six years added, "I am so happy we tried it. We encourage all families to give it a shot. It is has been so worth it to our family to keep him engaged with his therapy team. Each session has been rewarding for us. You can see the sense of accomplishment on his face when we are finished each week."
Taylor-Wells concluded, "I am so proud of our outpatient staff and the ability to adapt what we do into a completely different, patient friendly setting. Telehealth has proven to be a surprising and new way to connect us with our families and in a way, has made us even closer with them. Families have really taken to it and that enable us to give the same quality of care they had before. It really shows whether you are here with us or we are on the screen in your home, we care for you and your family the same way."