Sponsored by Abbott.
For much of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the value of telehealth in healthcare delivery into sharp focus. With lockdowns and social distancing established to try to slow the spread of the virus, many found that telehealth appointments were the only way they could check in with their healthcare providers and receive much-needed care.
While certain activities, such as physical assessments, blood work and surgeries, still must be done in-person, telehealth can reduce the burden of follow-up care for monitoring and treatment adjustments as well as offer greater flexibility in appointment time and location. For people with chronic health conditions, this amounts to a life less interrupted. Despite its advantages, telehealth was slow to be adopted prior to COVID-19, in part because most of the available technology only allowed physicians to check in with their patients rather than facilitating a true care environment, albeit virtual.
For patients with movement disorders, the move to telehealth appointments has been a long time coming. For decades, these patients, which include those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, have struggled to get to doctors’ appointments. Not only did their condition make it difficult to move or walk, many had to travel more than 150 miles on average to access physicians who specialized in treating their conditions,1 placing a significant burden on caregivers, family members and neighbors who were often enlisted to drive them to appointments. Patients with movement disorders need regular follow-up care, typically every few months- this meant many were either taking significant time to travel to the doctor several times a year or they were forgoing much-needed care while risking potential complications.
These issues with access to care are magnified for people with advanced Parkinson’s Disease, who may require specialized therapies like Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). DBS systems are implanted devices, similar to pacemakers, that deliver low-intensity electrical impulses through thin wires, or leads, to regulate activity in precise areas in the brain. DBS is the most common surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease2 and has proven to be an effective lasting treatment option for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor for 15 years.3,4
A recent survey hosted by the Parkinson’s Foundation in collaboration with Abbott found that more than a third of Parkinson’s patients surveyed reported difficulty getting to a clinic for various reasons, and more than a quarter of those surveyed reported difficulty contacting their clinic for advice.5
That changed for patients who have an Abbott Infinity DBS implant this year with the introduction of Abbott’s NeuroSphere™ Virtual Clinic a first-of-its-kind technology in the US that not only allows patients and their physicians to conduct a routine check-in via cloud and Bluetooth-based technology, but also lets practitioners make remote treatment adjustments to neuromodulation devices implanted in patients.
By combining DBS with a virtual clinic solution, movement disorder patients can receive adjustments to stimulation settings remotely from their physicians and be monitored in real time via app-based video, without the added stress and inconvenience of physically getting to their appointments. Most patients surveyed about their experience with the technology reported that remote visits using NeuroSphere are similar in quality to in-person visits.5
Advances in technologies like this that facilitate remote care are fundamentally reshaping the manner, place and time that neurologists can treat movement disorder patients. While accelerated by COVID-19 management protocols, these evolutions in healthcare had not only been conceptualized but were well underway. With NeuroSphere, we’re just at a precipice of digital and connected care that will continue to benefit people long after the pandemic is over.
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Binith Cheeran, MD, PhD, is the Senior Director of Medical and Clinical Affairs for Abbott’s Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) products, a part of Abbott’s neuromodulation business.