Chronic pain was something Army Veteran Magdalen Jean-Baptiste believed she’d experience for the rest of her life.
Things changed one day when a box arrived at her doorstep, packed with an iPad, a Fitbit and more. These were the tools she needed to start a 12-week session with the Medically Complex Telerehabilitation program (MCTelerehab) offered through VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS).
The first-in-VA pilot program began enrolling patients in January 2021 as an innovative way to meet Veterans’ physical therapy needs in the comfort and safety of their homes. Despite barriers created by the pandemic, the MCTelerehab program bridges instant access to quality care designed to meet one’s individualized goals.
“Everything was geared toward me,” Jean-Baptiste said, who quickly learned her therapy team was not there to command exercises, but rather compassionately coach her.
Making SMART goals
“‘Maggie, we are here to help you,” the Annie app said. “We don’t want to push you past your capabilities. If you are in pain, stop. We want you to make SMART goals.”
Army Veteran Magdalen Jean-Baptiste
SMART is an acronym for Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-Based.
It was this trust that made all the difference for Jean-Baptiste. “What I loved most about the program, as a Veteran who had been suffering from chronic pain, PTSD and anxiety, was that I trusted them,” she said.
Feeling supported and empowered, Jean-Baptiste found herself smiling more and feeling better over the course of the MCTelerehab sessions.
“After the first week, my mental health had improved. I didn’t realize how down I was but I had relegated my chronic pain,” she added.
By keeping track of progress with her new Fitbit, she also saw her daily step count climb from 2,000 to 11,000.
Addresses needs through individual sessions
Pictured above, Maegan Olivos coaches Veteran Mary Walsh through exercises during a Medially Complex Telerehabilitation session, a first-in-VA pilot project.
“This multifaceted program addresses the functional and motivational needs of Veterans during the pandemic through their individual telerehabilitation and coaching sessions. It also provides camaraderie and social support from other Veterans,” Olivos said.
The MCTelerehab program “helps Veterans get moving again and learn the skills to keep moving so they can enjoy life,” according to Dr. Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, a researcher with the Geriatrics Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC). She launched the program with her team after receiving a grant from VA’s Office of Connected Care (OCC).
With easy-to-use technology like VA Video Connect, the Annie app and partnering with existing VA programs like the MOVE! Weight Management Program, Veterans become empowered with tools and support to reach their healthy lifestyle goals.
They connect three times a week with their providers.
MCTelerehab takes telehealth a step further by utilizing tools patients may not have realized were already in reach. Along with VA-provided gear, the program enlists common household items, such as a chair, a water bottle or a bag of rice as tools.
“All of the exercises we are doing in our homes are with the things we already have,” Jean-Baptiste said. She found herself doing push-ups against her deep freezer and using a gallon of milk for weight resistance.
Through its versatile approach to behavior change, MCTelerehab offers more levels of support than standard telerehabilitation.
“It changes your mind about fitness and movement,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We make it seem hard. I don’t have an elliptical machine, weights or all those things.”
By challenging her outlook on fitness and overall health, MCTelerehab has been simply life changing.
“One of the things the program showed me is that I can do it,” she said. “The program was something I didn’t know I needed until I got into it. You guys saved my life.”
Terri Rorke is a public affairs specialist with the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System.