A randomized control trial feasibility evaluation of an mHealth intervention for wheelchair skill training among middle-aged and older adults.

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Publication Date: 
Oct 11, 2017

BACKGROUND: Providing mobility skills training to manual wheelchair (MWC) users can have a positive impact on community participation, confidence and quality of life. Often such training is restricted or not provided at all because of the expense of, and limited access to, occupational and physical therapists before and after discharge. This is particularly true among middle-aged and older adults, who often have limited access to rehabilitation services and require more time to learn motor skills. A monitored MWC skills training home program, delivered using a computer tablet (mHealth), was developed as an alternative approach to service delivery. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of implementing this mHealth MWC skills training program among middle-aged and older adults.

METHODS: A 2 × 2 factorial design randomized controlled trial (RCT) was used to compare the mHealth intervention and control groups, with additional wheeling time as a second factor. Community-dwelling MWC users aged 55 and older, who had used their MWC for less than two years and propelled with two hands, were recruited. Feasibility outcomes related to process, resources, management and treatment criteria were collected.

RESULTS: Eighteen participants were recruited, with a retention rate of 94%. Mean (±SD) duration for the first and second in-person training sessions were 90.1 ± 20.5 and 62.1 ± 5.5 min, respectively. In the treatment group, 78% achieved the minimum amount of home training (i.e., 300 min) over four weeks and 56% achieved the preferred training threshold (i.e., 600 min). Trainers reported only seven minor protocol deviations. No tablets were lost or damaged and there was one incident of tablet malfunction. No injuries or adverse incidents were reported during data collection or training activities. Participants indicated 98% agreement on the post-treatment benefit questionnaire.

DISCUSSION: Overall, the study protocol enabled implementation of the intervention in a safe, efficient and acceptable manner. Participant recruitment proved to be challenging, particularly gaining access to individuals who might benefit. Resource issue demands were acceptable for administration of the intervention; data collection was more time-consuming than anticipated but could be reduced with minor revisions. Participant retention and home program treatment adherence was high; both participant and trainer burden was acceptable. Treatment group participants reported a positive experience and clinical benefits from training program. The findings suggest a full-scale RCT evaluating the clinical impact of the Enhancing Participation In the Community by improving Wheelchair Skills (EPIC Wheels) intervention is warranted, provided the recruitment issues are addressed through collaborative partnerships and active recruitment strategies.

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