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"Could you order 25 webcams today?" Dr. Mark Bayley remembers asking one of his staff almost immediately after the pandemic began.
Dr. Bayley, who is the Medical Director of Toronto Rehab and UHN's Physiatrist-in-Chief, had immediately grasped the potentially dire implications that the COVID-19 crisis could have on patients like his – people who had recently experienced a stroke or brain injury and required in-person rehab as part of their recovery.
After these potentially devastating events, there's a narrow window during which the brain is primed to rewire itself, particularly with the recovery of motor functions. But rehab is a must.
"Failure to do rehabilitation activities during that period may ultimately lead to a worse recovery," explains Dr. Bayley, who is also a Senior Scientist at the KITE Research Institute at UHN.
Back then, video platforms were rarely used for rehab, but he knew to urgently order cameras. How? Because since 2005 he has been offering rehab online to patients in distant communities via Ontario Telehealth.
"It was pretty clear right away that the only thing that was going to work was virtual rehab," says Dr. Bayley, who is widely recognized as a tele-rehab pioneer.
The team jumped out of the gate instantly, arranging to deliver video-based rehab before many other institutions recognized the sound of the starter's pistol.
Dr. Bayley was in a unique position: he had been advocating for the creation of a virtual rehab program for two years prior to the pandemic, so "we were primed to do it, even though we were at the stage of minimal adoption," he explains.
Suddenly, COVID-19 had changed the game.