Thirty years of innovating rehabilitation equipment

A collage staff members

Clinicians and vendors come together annually to collaborate on and learn about new rehabilitation products for patients at the Rehab Equipment Expo.

Over thirty years ago, Ian Denison, Equipment Specialist at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre had the idea to bring together occupational therapists (OT) and rehabilitation equipment vendors under one roof so OTs could learn about technological innovations in equipment for their patients. What resulted was more innovation: as OTs tested power wheelchairs and other patient equipment, they gave vendors real-time feedback that vendors then used to make improvements.

Three decades later, Ian continues to organize the annual Rehabilitation Equipment Expo, the only one of its kind in Western Canada. The expo’s 30th anniversary was marked on March 5, attended by more than 450 OTs, physiotherapists, speech language pathologists and rehabilitation assistants from across Vancouver Coastal Health, B.C. and other western provinces.

Ian says that the collaboration that comes from this event is one of its biggest draws.

“In one day, clinicians can exchange ideas, learn from each other, and provide equipment feedback to vendors,” says Ian. “Vendors and clinicians get a lot of value from coming here, and that ultimately benefits the patients.”

Nancy Forseth, Occupational Therapy Practice Leader, G.F. Strong agrees.

“We value the opportunity to build relationships with vendors and learn about products that could benefit our clients,” says. “They really do augment our therapies.”

We are always learning

The expo also provides opportunities for OTs to learn from their peers, sometimes in unexpected ways.

This year Lindsay Alford and Jill Harburn, OT’s working in G.F Strong’s wheelchair seating service, led an education session for their colleagues on seating and cushion parameters.

Melissa Austin, Occupational Therapy Practice Leader, Richmond says this was an illuminating moment for those in attendance.

“It seems simple, but understanding the impact a well-positioned piece of foam can make to a wheelchair user is essential,” says Melissa. “This can significantly benefit the health and well-being of the patients and clients we see.”

Ian adds that new OTs don’t often see this detailed level of care in their training.

 “They come here to learn what is best practice and how they can aspire to implement it,” he says.

The expo’s success highlights how putting a simple idea into practice can lead to 30 years of improving patient care.