Smart socks help physios treat patients remotely
‘Smart socks’ developed at The University of Melbourne are helping physiotherapists better assess and treat patients during video consultations by providing information on weight distribution and range of movement during exercises like steps, squats or jumps.
The wearable technology was created by PhD candidate Deepti Aggarwal, the Victorian winner of the 2017 Fresh Science program, who explained, “Australian physiotherapists are increasingly reliant on video consultations to treat rural and remote patients.
“This reduces the time and cost for patients travelling to the hospital. However, video consultations are less effective for physiotherapists, as they only provide a two-dimensional view of the patient.
“To assess patient recovery, physiotherapists must closely observe the subtle differences in their movements. My invention helps them do this by providing valuable insights on patients undergoing lower limb rehabilitation, capturing information on weight distribution, range of foot movement and foot orientation.”
The technology, called SoPhy, consists of three sensors embedded in socks that patients wear while performing exercises, plus a web interface that displays the captured data in real time for the physiotherapists. It was trialled with three patients with chronic pain and a physiotherapist at The Royal Children’s Hospital from February to June 2017.
In the trial, SoPhy was found to increase the physiotherapists’ confidence in their assessments by providing information that wasn’t visible in the video. The information also helped them correct their assessment when the visual cues were misleading, allowing them to adapt the exercises based on the patient’s condition.
“SoPhy became a shared language to discuss the patient’s recovery over time and to plan new therapy goals, and enhanced the doctor-patient communication,” Deepti said. She added that the physiotherapists were keen to use the system both for video and face-to-face consultations, and patients wanted to continue using SoPhy to practise exercises at home.
The socks currently cost around $300 to make and would primarily be made available to patients who are working with a physiotherapist through tele-consultation. While this might sound expensive for a pair of socks, Deepti says in cases where patients need years of treatment, the cost of travel and accommodation would far outstrip this — especially in the case of disabled patients who find travel more difficult.
“Technologies like SoPhy are not a replacement for face-to-face consultations; rather, they’re the next-best solution to support patients in critical situations such as those with severe pain and mobility issues,” she said.
Deepti is open to selling the socks to wearable technology companies, with mass production set to reduce the cost of each pair. She is also looking to extend the technology for video consultations in other areas where care is limited, such as for pregnant women who can’t regularly travel for face-to-face appointments.
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