Alumni Profile: Sarah Brzeszkiewicz, MSOT ’14, OTR/L

by Michele Berhorst • April 12, 2024


Many medical disciplines are starting to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into patient care. Occupational therapy (OT) is no exception; assessments and interventions can utilize AI technology through wearable devices or voice-based smart home assistants to capture data that can be used to improve patient outcomes.

Alumna Sarah Brzeszkiewicz, MSOT ’14, OTR/L, is a clinical advisor at Sensi.AI, a tech startup company that developed the world's first in-home virtual care technology, which uses audio AI to assist care agencies in providing clients with 24/7 support.

Following graduation, Brzeszkiewicz worked as an occupational therapist in the flex department of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab). “Flex means you float throughout their whole network. I worked in the day rehab, outpatient and pain clinics before ending up in inpatient rehab. That population clicked with me the most,” Brzeszkiewicz says. “I transitioned into their stroke unit, where I stayed until 2019 when I moved to Austin, Texas, to escape the brutal Chicago winters and find work-life balance. I started working at St. David's Rehabilitation Center’s inpatient rehab and was a part of their stroke and brain injury unit.”

The year 2020 proved to be a turning point for Brzeszkiewicz; she experienced clinical burnout due to three compounding factors. “I was working on the COVID unit while also carrying a caseload on the non-COVID rehab side. The unique complexities associated with a COVID diagnosis and ever-evolving operational changes on the unit made balancing both workloads difficult,” Brzeszkiewicz explains. “Furthermore, the social-political climate amid the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd amplified daily challenges faced by many practitioners of color. Personally, it was exceedingly challenging for me to navigate unfiltered comments and microaggressions from patients, their families and, at times, my colleagues. The final factor was caring for a family member who had a stroke, which led me to spend the last two months of 2020 isolated in a rehab hospital helping them recover. I was mentally and emotionally spent.”

She started researching what nontraditional spaces an occupational therapist could fill. “I turned to the tech industry and health tech startups. I felt like I needed to find a different space to practice and get energized again,” Brzeszkiewicz says. “I was targeting jobs that called for a clinical component, and that’s how I found Sensi.AI. Their mission is to use AI to support the home care industry by providing a tool that can help agencies use data to optimize care and have evidence-based decision-making.

In her role as clinical advisor, Brzeszkiewicz works with her tech colleagues to support agencies across the U.S. and internationally. “Think of me as a bridge between the product and the people utilizing the information
at the agencies. I help them by not only supporting them to use the product from a technical side but also incorporating the data they receive into the services they provide.”

Sensi.AI’s product consists of passive, audio-based pods that help their system identify care-related occurrences that happen in a person's home and send that data to a customized dashboard at the care agency. “Let’s say a client has mentioned experiencing burning with urination or increased trips to the bathroom. That will trigger the AI to capture that moment. The system can also highlight patterns or reveal a trend in experiences or behaviors. In this case, the agency will be notified that a possible urinary tract infection (UTI) might be occurring, so they can be proactive in getting a urinalysis or partnering with other care providers to address the concern,” Brzeszkiewicz says. “Our product enables the home care model of service delivery to be more proactive and less reactive. Without this system, the agency may not learn about the UTI until the infection has progressed and the client is hospitalized.”

She is also utilizing her clinical experience and OT lens: “I’m constantly assessing the agency’s stage of readiness for integrating this technology and identifying strategies to help them progress along the adoption process. Each agency comes to us at a different stage of preparedness, and sometimes the flow along a customer’s journey is not always linear. So being an occupational therapist, I'm looking at what are the barriers, what are the supports that are going to allow this and allow me to help them get the most out of the product to help their clients.”

Brzeszkiewicz sees potential in AI addressing health-care barriers and helping improve access to quality care. “At Sensi.AI, we seek to bridge the gap between the caregiver shortage and the increasing aging population in need of services. The care provider using virtual monitoring can help clients reduce health risks, advocate for positive change, and optimize care delivered in a more personalized way.” However, she cautions, “As with any platform utilizing machine-learning algorithms, we must continue to be aware of biases inherent in the training data that can perpetuate inequities. For example, Sensi.AI is actively working to expand our system’s capabilities into other languages so that even more individuals can receive better access to care.”

While the setting has changed, Brzeszkiewicz still does what occupational therapists do best: care for clients. “A component of our system can detect falls. An agency had a client who fell in their home, and we sent an alert when the fall occurred. The agency followed up with the person, but there was no response. They sent someone to the home, who found the client injured on the floor,” Brzeszkiewicz recalls. “The client went to the hospital, and it turned out that their brain was hemorrhaging. This person didn't have much of a support system beyond the agency. Without our product, it could have been days before they were found between the two care shifts. The agency was able to be proactive when the client returned home to change their care plan to prevent another fall and continue to monitor it through our pods.”

For occupational therapists hesitant about incorporating AI into their practice, Brzeszkiewicz offers the following advice: “Embrace the technology, and, if possible, start to incorporate familiar AI tools like a wearable watch the client may have. Be open-minded and see such devices as another tool in our toolbox. As a profession, we need to stay up-to-date with AI technology because it can open practitioners to new career opportunities and improve the optimization of the care we provide.”


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