May 5, 2020

Patients embrace virtual visits as Sport Medicine Centre stays open for business

Clinic offers physician, physiotherapy and dietician consults by videoconference
Brett Henderson demonstrates an exercise in his living room.
Brett Henderson demonstrates an exercise in his living room. Courtesy Brett Henderson

Before his first virtual visit with a patient, Brett Henderson practised mock physiotherapy sessions with family members.

“I’m glad I did that because I had to get a second laptop and move my furniture around to get enough space to demonstrate the exercises [photo above]. It gave me insight as to what some of the barriers might be with videoconferencing,” says Henderson, a physiotherapist at the Sport Medicine Centre and a UCalgary Kinesiology alumnus who graduated in 2014.

To stay open or to close? This was a big question for the Sport Medicine Centre, or SMC, as it is for many businesses who have clients relying on them for care. But when most of the University of Calgary had to close its doors, the Sport Medicine Centre chose to remain open.

Since mid-March, only massage therapy is no longer offered at SMC — the rest of their services including physician, physiotherapy and dietician consults have moved to a videoconferencing tool, Telehealth. The only in-person visits are for those who have urgent musculoskeletal injuries, and effective May 4, for those where the benefit of the service outweighs the risks. 

Sarah Flemming used the videoconferencing tool for the first time to see Henderson. “The service is fantastic. I had hip surgery a month ago, and I showed my physiotherapist how I was doing my exercises and he gave me a few tips to correct my form, and he showed me how to do a few new exercises. It’s reassuring to know I’m moving in the right direction.”

Steep ‘creative’ curve for staff

“Before I meet with clients now, I have to do more planning, be more adaptable because I don’t know if they are comfortable with technology, or what kind of space they have to show me their exercise form, or what kind of equipment they have to help with their exercises. I’ve had to be more creative with their at-home care and this is knowledge I can use in the future,” says Henderson.

Despite a few challenges, Henderson says most patients have embraced the new way of doing business.

“Many of my patients prefer to meet virtually in the comfort of their own home, as it can be difficult to visit the clinic when you have an injury, or you live far from the university or out of town.”

Brett Henderson, physiotherapist in the Sport Medicine Centre, videoconferences with a patient.

Brett Henderson, physiotherapist in the Sport Medicine Centre, videoconferences with a patient.

Courtesy Brett Henderson

Henderson adds he’s found an interesting benefit. “Since my patients must manage their own care at home, they are being more proactive about their exercise programs, and a big part of rehabilitation is promoting self-efficacy and empowering the patient to manage their own rehabilitation and their own symptoms.”

Opening new doors for the clinic

SMC stayed open for three main reasons, says Melissa Merritt, director of operations for the SMC.

“We wanted to take some of the burden off of emergency room and urgent care clinics, we didn’t want clients with urgent injuries to have to visit hospitals and possibly expose themselves to the virus, and we wanted non-urgent clients to maintain their health.”

What surprised Merritt is how videoconferencing with patients has opened new doors for the clinic.

“We are getting a new set of rural clients. Since they usually have to drive a long way to access the services we offer, they are grateful to see us virtually. This isn’t a tool we would have imagined using before, but we may incorporate it in the future when regular services resume,” says Merritt.

Effective May 4, the Government of Alberta’s phased-in approach to Covid-19 allowed for more in-person visits — urgent patients as well as those patients where the benefit of the service outweighs the risks; however, the SMC will continue with telehealth visits where it can be provided safely and effectively. For more information, visit the Sport Medicine Centre website.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.