Atlanta, GA,
15:43 PM

Smart Tech Training at Shepherd

The new program will train therapists to educate patients on how smart tech can enhance their health, safety, and wellness.

Whether it’s smart speakers, plugs, or thermostats, an increasing number of households in the United States are using smart home technology. Knowing how to use it effectively can make a huge difference, especially for people with disabilities.

Shepherd Center’s Smart Technology Education for Carryover at Home (SmartTECH) project began when Chris Maurer, PT, MPT, ATP, assistive technology program manager, and Tracey Wallace, MS, CCC-SLP, Shepherd’s SHARE Military Initiative project and education coordinator, saw an opportunity to extend the reach of everyday technology to more patients through the education and training of therapists in departments throughout Shepherd Center.

“We went through a discovery process and found that not only are patients unaware of how to use or uncomfortable with using some smart devices, but some of our therapists also aren’t as comfortable training and using those types of technology as others,” explains Maurer. “So, we wanted to create a program where we would train therapists as well as patients in using everyday consumer technology to enhance patient health, safety, and wellness at home.”

Examples of applications of smart tech solutions include a person using a wheelchair adding smart plugs for lamp switches that were previously out of reach, a person with memory issues using a smart speaker to create a digital grocery list accessible from their phone, or a caregiver concerned about leaving their loved one unsupervised for even a brief period using the “drop-in” feature on a smart speaker with a video screen.

“I think what's exciting — and daunting — about these types of technologies is that they can do so many things,” Wallace says. “Smart home technology can support communication, planning, leisure, and control of your environment. It’s endless. And the way that you set up your technology can be customized. We’re using things that exist, but it's the creative way that our therapists put them together in partnership with the people that they're serving that is innovative."

Maurer and Wallace saw the greatest opportunity to start with outpatients.

“Many outpatients are already living at home, and those who are not at home live in a home-like environment,” Wallace says. “They've had an opportunity to return to life outside the hospital. Before you’ve left the hospital, you can only do so much prediction of what you’re going to need, and sometimes people don't realize something will be a challenge until they actually try it.”

Danny Housley, Shepherd Center’s Assistive Technology Center equipment case manager, is the project coordinator.

“This training is important for individuals with disabilities because they will have more access, control, and freedom, but it is also useful for caregivers. It gives everybody peace of mind and helps with care,” Housley says.

Wallace and Maurer have recruited champions – staff members from outpatient departments — to help identify the tools most helpful for their patient populations and pass on their knowledge to members of their teams.

“These champions are building their skills and knowledge and becoming leaders in this area. We have monthly meetings where they exchange information, ideas, and experience, and it's been exciting to see staff helping one another develop,” Wallace says.

They are also developing an assessment to establish a uniform way of measuring needs and interests in using smart home technology — and training materials. The next steps are to obtain equipment and set up a smart home space in each clinic. The team will implement the program in one clinic at a time.

“We hope to provide people more independence and confidence when they go home by using this type of technology,” Maurer explains. “We want to create a program that will give the therapists confidence and awareness of the available tools and how to train the patients. We want to provide patients with training materials that they can use as a resource in the future to use these technologies.”

Maurer says the program will have to evolve as technology changes.

“We will continue to update the program as technology advances to keep everybody updated on what's out there and how we can use everyday technology to help our patients further,” she explains.

The Innovation Institute in the Marcus Center for Advanced Rehabilitation, under construction on Shepherd’s main campus, will further facilitate Shepherd’s ability to connect users and technology. The Innovation Institute will house an assistive and rehabilitation technology showroom, a dedicated space for people with disabilities to test and try technologies and smart home solutions before they invest in them. The Innovation Institute is set to open summer of 2025.

Written by Ruth Underwood.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.