Increasing patient transparency using wearable technology

While most people use wearable devices for activity tracking, wearable tech is making its debut in health care in many creative ways. Investigators at the UK College of Health Sciences and the University of Michigan Dearborn are on the brink of impacting rehabilitative telehealth using tracking technology. 

Tim Uhl, PhD, ATC, PT, FNATA, professor in the UK College of Health Sciences physical therapy program, and Samir Rawashdeh, PhD, University of Kentucky alum and faculty member at the University of Michigan Dearborn, received funding from the National Science Foundation for their new study which will use wearable technology to help patients perform exercises with better accuracy and ultimately to improve the progression of outpatient recoveries.

Through the collaborative project, “Rehab Buddy”: Extending Individualized Physical Rehabilitation beyond the Clinic Using Wearable Technology to Empower Patients,” both Uhl and Rawashdeh hope to bridge the gap between providers and patients to add an extra layer of supervision and accountability for patients who complete parts of their recovery process at home.

“One of the challenges we face in the rehabilitative field is making sure a patient adheres to their assigned exercises outside of a clinical setting,” Uhl said. “We want to get people better. When patients come into a clinic or practice, and are under our supervision, we can give them feedback. But at home, they do not have the same accountability.”

“This technology will allow us to be flexible enough to where I can create exercise modifications on the fly for two people with similar shoulder injuries but who are at different levels in their recovery,” Uhl continued. “Everyone needs something different.”

The technology will also allow practitioners to monitor patient adherence and better identify patients who are doing too much or too little. “If I’m looking at a dashboard with 12 patients using 'Rehab Buddy' and I see Ms. S has done her 120 repetitions, but Mr. J has only done 40 repetitions with his device, it is going to prompt a conversation with him,” Uhl said.

The study will have three components after familiarization with the device. First, a patient will perform exercises with the device under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. Second, the patient will perform the exercise with feedback from Rehab Buddy using a computer, and finally without feedback.

“We expect that exercise performance with feedback will be better than without feedback when compared to performing the same exercises under supervision of the physical therapist,” Uhl said.

“Rehabilitation is incorporated for multiple injuries and illnesses. However, therapists only know if a patient is doing their exercises at home if they tell us,” Uhl said. “This project will allow more transparency in the rehab process and ensure the patient is going through the right motions to optimize their recovery.”