Purpose: To assess patients' perceptions of environmental control units (ECUs) at Veterans Affairs Spinal Cord Injury Centers.
Materials and methods: A brief questionnaire was conducted with patients in real-time while they were hospitalised ("on-the-spot questionnaire"); a survey was mailed to patients who had recently been discharged from a hospital stay ("discharge survey"). Data were analysed using descriptive statistics.
Results: Seventy on-the-spot questionnaires and 80 discharge surveys were collected. ECU features used most frequently were comparable in responses from both surveys: watching TV/movies (81%, 85%), calling the nurse (68%, 61%), turning lights on/off (63%, 52%), adjusting the bed (53%, 33%), and playing games (39%, 24%). Many on-the-spot questionnaire respondents felt the ECU met their need for independence a great deal (42%). Most respondents to both surveys were satisfied with the ECU (71%, 57%). Areas for improvement included user training, improved functionality of the device and its features, and device design.
Conclusions: ECUs were well-accepted by persons with spinal cord injuries/disorders (SCI/D) in the inpatient setting, and increased patients' perceptions of independence. To maximise usability and satisfaction, facilities should ensure that comprehensive training on ECU use and features available is offered to all patients, and resources are available for timely troubleshooting and maintenance. Implications for rehabilitation An environmental control unit (ECU) is a form of assistive technology that allows individuals with disabilities (such as spinal cord injuries and disorders [SCI/D]) to control functional and entertainment-related aspects of their environment. ECU use can increase functioning, independence and psychosocial well-being among individuals with SCI/D, by allowing users to reclaim control over day-to-day activities that are otherwise limited by their disability. Our study results indicate that, among persons with SCI/D, ECUs are well-accepted and increase perceptions of independence. To maximise usability and patient satisfaction, facilities should ensure that comprehensive training on how to use ECUs and what features are available is offered to all patients, and resources are available for timely troubleshooting and maintenance.
Keywords: Assistive technology; Veterans; environmental control units; independence; satisfaction; spinal cord injury.