Healthcare Professionals’ Point of View: The Value of AT
By the MS Technology Collaborative
The development of accessible, or assistive, technology (AT) has evolved to address new ways of assisting people in their everyday lives. For example, there is now a technology that enables patients who fatigue easily to control their wheelchairs by simply blowing air into a tube. Within the MS community, AT usage is on the rise, but according to some healthcare professionals, certain adoption barriers are still an issue, such as affordability and lack of awareness.
Recently, the Collaborative spoke with Dr. Stephen Kirzinger, associate professor in the department of neurology and medical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center Program at the University of Louisville Medical School, and Dr. Kurt Johnson, professor in the department of rehabilitation medicine and head of the division of rehabilitation counseling at the University of Washington, to learn their perspectives on the importance of AT in the MS community and how people can overcome barriers to technology adoption.
Are you seeing more people with MS using ATs?
Dr. Kirzinger: In my opinion, the use of technology in helping people with MS is on the upswing, but to rapidly get this technology into the hands of the people who need it most, we need to focus on raising awareness of the technology that currently exists and lowering the barriers to entry.
What do you personally do to increase awareness of AT?
Dr. K: I regularly host a speaking engagement program at our Multiple Sclerosis Care Center in which individuals learn about AT and how it can assist with issues such as poor vision and motor impairment.
Have you seen any improvements in your patients who use ATs?
Dr. K: The most notable improvements I have seen are in some of my MS patients with cognitive disabilities. When appropriate, these individuals are using technologies at our rehabilitation center that were originally created for patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. To me, this crossover is encouraging for the future of AT development.
Are there ATs currently available to help people with MS at work?
Dr. Johnson: Individuals with MS have told me that cognitive loss can make workdays challenging – but they definitely don’t have to be. There are a variety of ATs that focus on improving memory and organization, such as electronic calendars that can send text message reminders, which make daily tasks easier to manage. A lot of these technologies are free, too.
What do you see as the future of AT?
Dr. J: Today, voice recognition technologies are used frequently and successfully by several MS community members to ease the difficulties they face when using their computers. I predict that within two to three years, computers will be powerful enough to have universal voice recognition features.
What do you believe is the biggest barrier to broad adoption of AT?
Dr. J: Cost. Health care reform will provide health insurance for a lot of individuals because pre-existing conditions are no longer a barrier to care, but this may not immediately translate to increased access to AT. To my knowledge, most health care benefits – including Medicare and Medicaid – only pay for technology that is deemed medically necessary for patients, such as a motorized wheelchair, a stair lift or a ramp for the home and car. In my opinion, insurance companies have a long way to go in seeing the value in technologies that MS patients use to make everyday life easier, stay connected and even keep their jobs longer. Access to care and early intervention will certainly improve the health of MS patients, but technology also needs to be recognized as a crucial part of patient therapy as well.