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Pilot Program at Memphis VA Promises Patients Greater Autonomy after Spinal-Cord Injuries
At the same time, the Memphis VA team expects the units to enable nursing staff to spend more time providing clinical care, rather than changing television channels and adjusting beds. For other clinical staff, the augmentative communications technology might lead to a higher level of care and more targeted counseling.
“Once we had a product that we thought could work, we put in the proposal with the innovations program to receive grant money to try to implement it here,” said House. “It’s never been implemented anywhere else before — we’re the first hospital in the public or private sector that has a device like this.”
The need resonated with VHA employees, who voted for the program in the Innovation selection process, and among national leaders.
“We’re looking forward to making advances in this area for our returning servicemembers,” Brown said. “It’s very critical that we take care of those that are in such great need. We’re excited about the possibility that this innovation can increase the ability for those veterans that are severely disabled to be able to communicate with the real world.”
Interest in the autonoME unit has been significant within the VA and beyond. Thompson has shown the device at a number of fairs, which generated calls from several VA Spinal Cord Units. Private hospitals and the Paralyzed Veterans of America also have been eager to learn more about the system, he said.
“I promised [House] that the Memphis VA would be the first. Others will have to wait until we have this program up and running,” Thompson noted.
In addition to seeing the units in place in the 24 VA Spinal Injury centers around the country, the team is keen to enable veterans to use autonoME devices once they go home. In the Memphis Spinal Cord Unit, about 40 beds are used by patients who come in for a week for annual evaluations. The rest of the units are devoted to veterans who may stay substantially longer.
“We have around five ventilated patients who are may be here for a year or two and others who may stay six months,” said Prabhakaran Nambiar, MD, clinical lead for the project and chief of the Memphis VA Spinal Cord Injury service. “Quality-of-life issues are very important for these patients. This equipment enables them to do most of the things they would like to do in life. We would like to develop it so the unit could also be fitted onto wheelchairs, so they would have the same abilities when mobile,” whether at the VA or elsewhere. Regardless of how long they are in the unit, patients “can get better and return home, so we would like to get some of these things adapted so they can have the same equipment,” Nambiar said.
“Our goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible for the patients,” added House. “They come in, they use the equipment, they become used to it, they understand how it functions, and then we send them home with it so that they have the same access there as well. Accessibility Services is waiting for us to work out the details with some of our prosthetics and the details of training.”
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