How do rehab engineers complement therapy services?
A rehab engineer can have a mechanical, biomedical, or electrical engineering degree. They can have any engineering undergrad degree and get advanced training in the rehabilitation field. They learn how to apply technology to a person's needs and are often very good with the technological piece. Therapists who work in AT usually have a natural inclination to want to tinker. What I have learned is there is an area where therapists tend to level off due to a knowledge gap about technology. I have seen this in the past five to six years because of the complexity of technology. We advocated for a rehab engineer to come to the clinic with us as a "value-added" service, so we do not bill the client. The rehab engineer supports the clinicians and allows us to prioritize our time and ensure that the equipment is serving at its highest level.
Our rehab engineer is Liz. How I look at it is that she has enough clinical knowledge to understand the person, but she has more mechanical expertise and the time to program, upload, integrate, and set up the devices. OT or PT's time is utilized for the interface of the patient with the equipment, and therapists love that. They do not want to spend their time programming or setting up equipment. They want to interact with that person. The engineer can then stick around and see how the equipment and their work are utilized. It has been a great partnership, and I hope to see more rehab engineers in clinics. They are in the VA and academia, but you do not see them as much in clinical settings.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Using Assistive Technology To Increase Participation In Daily Life Podcast, presented by Theresa Berner, MOT, OTR/L, ATP and Dennis Cleary, MS, OTD, OTR/L.