As novel as virtual medical and rehabilitation appointments seemed when COVID-19 first appeared, they’re now simply part of the new norm for many healthcare systems. What’s more, they could eventually lead to lower demand for skilled nursing care. A new study, for example, suggests that telerehabilitation may be just as good as in-person rehab for stroke patients.

In the study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, six different clinical trials examining stroke telerehabilitation programs took place across Canada. Recovering stroke patients received interventions ranging from lifestyle coaching to memory, speech skills and physical therapy.

Researchers found that the efficacy and cost of telerehabilitation is similar to that of traditional face-to-face stroke rehab services. Patients reported being mostly satisfied with the telerehabilitation when therapists were trained appropriately, and when there was some social interaction. Overall, clinicians said they preferred face-to-face interactions but would use telerehabilitation when face-to-face was not feasible.

Since  seniors are a key target group for stroke rehab, study results suggested that the technology needed to be easy to use by this population.

“While there might be some hesitation of current older adults using technology to receive health and rehab services, the older adult of tomorrow likely is very comfortable using technology,” said Brodie Sakakibara, Ph.D. “This represents a large opportunity to develop and establish the telehealth/rehabilitation model of care.”

Full findings of the trials are published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health.