This story is reprinted from FresnoState Magazine, as written by Melissa Tav, for the Summer 2020 edition.
A computer screen separates 78-year-old Fresnan Beau Carter from Fresno State physical therapy student Mercedes Dobson. They are in the middle of a gait and balance clinic appointment, and although the two are not physically in the same room, they can see each other clearly and interact in real time, thanks to the power of technology.
As the 30-minute session continues, Dobson gently instructs Carter to move his leg slightly to the left in an upward motion. Carter, who has weakness in his lower legs due to nerve issues and knee surgery, follows directions and holds his balance while one arm rests on the household chair in front of him.
Back in the virtual realm, Dobson, the lead therapist in this case, is joined by two classmates (serving as support therapists) and faculty supervisor Dr. Nupur Hajela, all of whom are viewing and analyzing the session from the comforts of their own homes. This method of providing health care electronically is known as telehealth — a method in which patients are connected to health care providers through remote means like video conferencing, image streaming and wireless communications.
Carter receives services through the Department of Physical Therapy’s Gait, Balance and Mobility Clinic, which provides low-cost treatment to local residents who have issues with movement due to a variety of neurological ailments, like traumatic brain injuries, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other surgeries. Before going virtual, the Gait, Balance and Mobility Clinic was held on campus twice a week and was led by second-year doctoral students in the physical therapy program, under the direction of faculty like Hajela, Dr. Na-hyeon (Hannah) Ko and three part-time clinical faculty.
With fast-moving changes due to COVID-19 causing the cancellation of in-person classes and a mandated shelter-in-place order by the City of Fresno, faculty had to work quickly to determine an alternative plan of action that would allow them to keep serving their clients (many of whom are elderly), while still maintaining the integrity of the learning experience for their students.
For a clinic built around hands-on learning, the transition was tough, but not impossible, Hajela says.
“With just a few weeks left in the semester, we knew it was important to continue offering this clinic for our patients and our students,” Hajela says. “We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the students got on board and how nicely the patients and their caregivers supported this sudden change. We really tried to step up to the challenge, and it was really beautiful to see how well received this change has been.”
Read the full story in Fresno State Magazine.