JACKSON, Miss.—Researchers at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson are looking for new ways to provide information and health care to discharged patients.
One solution may involve telemedicine—an online application that provides access to information and allows patients and health care providers to communicate via the Internet.
Methodist Rehab has received a $25,000 grant from the Mississippi Paralysis Association for a preliminary study to determine if the system will work and benefit patients.
The Jackson hospital needs the project—called RehabNet—because many former patients don’t return for annual follow-up visits, said Dr. Dobrivoje Stokic, director of the Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery at Methodist Rehab.
“We hope that with RehabNet, we can stay in touch with these patients and follow up on a regular basis which may reduce the occurrence of secondary complications such as urinary track infections, pressure sores and pneumonia,” Dr. Stokic said. Complications like these occur more frequently in patients who don’t return for follow-up visits and exams.
Several factors make follow-up visits difficult for the disabled, said Natalie Ellis, president of the Mississippi Paralysis Association. “But lack of transportation is the biggest obstacle people face,” she said.
Patients who live in rural areas don’t have access to handicapped-accessible public transportation and even for patients in larger cities, public transportation isn’t always dependable.
“And monetary resources also affect transportation and the ability to get to the hospital,” Ellis added. “Telemedicine could be a great benefit for patients who need help or even just information but can’t consistently get back to the hospital.”
Ellis, who is disabled, said when she lived in Columbus, she had to make long trips to Jackson for her follow-up visits.
With RehabNet, patients would be able to look up relevant information about their injury and have that information at the touch of a finger, said Dr. Stokic. “Everything we teach our patients has to happen within the limited amount of time the patient is in the hospital, so it’s natural that they will have questions when they get home,” he said.
And questions don’t always come up at convenient times, he added. “RehabNet will be available at all times, not just during business hours,” said Dr. Stokic. “And the information can be updated as breakthroughs are made in the field of research. Patients with RehabNet will have the opportunity to know all there is to know about their injury.”
The project is in the very early stages of development. “We still have to find out what technology and hardware will work best for us,” Dr. Stokic said. “It’s something we’re all working on. We have researchers, therapists, nurses, department heads and physicians working to identify possible candidates for the trial project.”
The concept has enormous room for growth, Dr. Stokic said.
Someday, if additional funding becomes available, the project could include installing computers in patient’s homes where they would have continuous access to RehabNet. Dr. Stokic hopes to find partners in the technology industry that can provide expertise as well as contributions.
The Mississippi Paralysis Association is not only helping to fund the project, but members of the organization will also serve on an advisory committee. “We want to reach out into the community to see what needs there are and how RehabNet may be able to help,” Dr. Stokic said. The project will be tested first on patients with spinal cord injuries and then possibly with those who have suffered traumatic brain injury.
“It’s going to be a really good program,” said Ellis. “It’s the next best thing to having Methodist Rehab satellite clinics all over the state.”