Using Technology For Fast-Track Recovery From Chronic Illness

Assistive technology is an incredibly valuable resource for both the economy and the individual. It reduces long-term care costs by reducing the cost of unnecessary hospitalization, allows for increased independence and enables people to more easily thrive in their community.

Beth Heyd, Technology Loan Program Coordinator at the Westchester Institute for Human Development (WIHD), has been working in this field for over 20 years. She’s seen firsthand how this technology can aid people in sensory stimulation, computer access and completing daily living activities such as bathing,

“Assistive tech is any piece of equipment that can help you do something you couldn’t do before. It can be as simple and low-tech as my glasses, or something as high-tech as an eye gaze-controlled computer system,” explained Beth Heyd, “If you’re a two-year-old who isn’t walking, you could use a prone stander that would get you upright, get you into a standing position and supported with a tray. Now the child is able to view their surroundings from a different perspective because they’re upright as opposed to being on the floor.”

One of the main programs at WIHD is their Assistive Technology Loan Program. With over 2,000 pieces of equipment at their disposal, it includes individual programs for ages birth to five, seniors, and everyone in between. In addition, Heyd also manages the Loan Program for the Commission for the Blind.

Participants in the program can borrow a device or piece of equipment for up to eight weeks in order to decide if it will be useful to them. If it’s determined that the equipment is beneficial, the loan can often be extended while a payment plan is devised to purchase a similar model.

“You don’t know if the equipment is going to work for you unless you try it. And if you’re a child who needs adaptive seating, you’re going to continue to grow,” said Heyd. “If it’s something they will need long-term, I extend the loan as they begin the purchasing process. If they believe they will meet the objectives in four to six months, I can also extend the loan. Most of the equipment that I loan out gets extended.”

However, most of the equipment is also returned. Heyd’s findings for one particular county in New York showed that among patients ages birth to five, 75% of the equipment was returned because the child met their goals with it, while 22% was returned because the equipment wasn’t appropriate for their needs. Only 3% of the equipment went on to be purchased.

“A child’s skills tend to develop and they need less support, plus their needs change over time,” said Heyd. “For seniors, your needs usually get greater as you get older.”

Part of the reason assistive tech equipment isn’t purchased is also due to difficulty n obtaining it. Heyd noted that public and private insurance will cover certain pieces of assistive tech, such as a communication device for someone who is non-verbal, but the process to receive it can often take months.

“For something like a communication device, patients would need a full evaluation from a licensed speech pathologist, a written note from their doctor and a device trial in both the home and the community,” she explained. “The insurance provider reviews the information and many times will come back with additional questions.”

Heyd acknowledged that assistive tech equipment can sometimes occasionally break down, but that loan programs come into play then by allowing people to borrow identical devices while theirs are being repaired. She encouraged those who have met their goals with assistive tech equipment to donate them back to those in need in their community.

“I’d like to see more people doing that instead of putting the equipment curbside or in the trash,” said Heyd. “If they’re no longer using it, we can clean it up and donate back to those in the community.”