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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Keeping Connected: How technology links patients and caregivers in COVID-19

November 25, 2020

As 21-year-old Mitchell Wagner challenges his body during a physical therapy session on the Lokomat, his parents and family cheer him on through a laptop screen. With every step, the brain injury survivor from southwest Minnesota receives encouragement from his parents and sister as therapists help Mitchell to build strength in his lower body.

In normal circumstances, Mitchell’s family would be physically by his side in the therapy gym at Madonna’s Lincoln Campus rather than dialed in over Zoom. But with COVID-19, 2020 has been anything but normal. With extra precautions to keep patients and their care teams safe, access to the hospital is limited to a patient’s caregivers. The virus forced Madonna to reevaluate how to provide the family and patient-centered care the hospital system is known for.

That’s when Madonna’s Virtual Services team came up with the idea of using technology to keep patients connected to their loved ones, even if they are hundreds of miles away.

“Offering patient-family virtual communication ensures that patients are able to stay in touch with their family members during a stressful and challenging time,” said Emily Rumery, OTD, OTR/L, Virtual Services leader.

For the Wagner family, access to this technology has made a world of difference in being able to support Mitchell during his recovery. It’s also kept Mitchell connected to his life back home, where he farms with his dad, who has been known to provide crop updates to Mitchell and his care team during therapy sessions.

“Family plays an important role in the rehabilitation process,” Melanie Wagner, Mitchell’s mom, said. “Our family is able to Zoom Mitchell throughout the day. My husband can Zoom many times from the combine while harvesting or just outside when he’s working on the farm.”

Staying connected to home also allows Mitchell to hear from his three siblings and his girlfriend. Mitchell’s older sister is able to take breaks while working from home to jump in on a session, his two younger siblings can participate on days they attend school remotely and his girlfriend Zooms in during her breaks in college classes. Melanie spends a majority of the weekdays at Madonna and Zooms in from Mitchell’s room.

“We all see how much harder Mitchell works when he has a cheering section behind him,” she said. The way he looks at the computer screen to see all of us encouraging him is priceless.”

“I have found it to be very beneficial for families to be able to Zoom our therapy sessions,” said Nicole Ford, PT, DPT, Mitchell’s primary physical therapist. “That family support can make a big difference in recovery.”

It’s through that computer screen that not only is Mitchell encouraged by his family, but his family is encouraged by his progress. It’s allowed his caregivers and loved ones to witness the gains he makes as he continues to work hard in his recovery

“We truly appreciate all the hard work and dedication of the staff here at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital,” Melanie said. “Mitchell is so lucky to be here!” 

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