Study aims to improve telehealth services for MS patients

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Elizabeth Morrison-Banks, MD, a health sciences clinical professor at the University of California, Riverside, has received a $100,000 grant from Genentech to conduct a study in hopes of developing a telehealth program for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study, titled “Clinicians’ Online Neurology Network Empowering Communities through Telemedicine – Multiple Sclerosis (CONNECT-MS)," will cover a year in the lives of MS patients receiving care through telemedicine. The goal is to provide improved neurological care to MS patients who would otherwise be burdened with travel or live in underserved populations.

“People with advanced MS face additional barriers in traveling to an MS center, even if it is located nearby, because if they have a lot of disability, over time it tends to become increasingly difficult for them to leave their homes,” said Morrison-Banks. “So if we can bring the ‘medical home’ into people’s actual homes, we can meet multiple needs at the same time while allowing a safe and comfortable environment for the medical visit.”

The study will include MS patients in a control and intervention group. The intervention group will be visited by a nurse practitioner in their homes to review patient history and complete a neurological exam while communicating with a neuro-immunologist at Riverside through a telemedicine platform. Results in care quality will be compared in each group along with factors including quality of life, pain levels, fatigue, sexual satisfaction, bladder control, bowel control, visual impairment and mental health.

Nurse practitioners will visit participants a month after the study’s conclusion to make a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine visit with Morrison-Banks. The team will then analyze measurements taken to recommend a course of treatment.

“The goal is to determine whether the home telemedicine approach works as well as usual care—that is, office visits with the neuro-immunologist,” Morrison-Banks said. “This is a pilot study and it may not be able to show whether MS telemedicine in patients’ homes is better than usual care, but if it appears to be equivalentand if patients and families like it better because of its convenience and comfortthen the pilot study will provide useful preliminary data to guide larger research studies in the future.”