Study: Telemedicine, 'smart socks' improve physical therapy outcomes

A PhD candidate at the Australia-based Melbourne School of Engineering developed a pair of "smart socks" to improve remote physical therapy.

Rural patients who live far away from facilities with on-site physical therapists are increasingly turning to video consultations for their care, according to a University of Melbourne statement. However, these telemedicine visits arguably do not provide physicians with a comprehensive view of the patient.

To address this issue, Deepti Aggarwal created SoPhy, a pair of socks embedded with sensors to capture data on the wearer's weight distribution, range of movement and foot orientation. These metrics, which present a more holistic picture of a patient's lower limb movements, are displayed on a web interface.

In a clinical trial at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, physical therapists asked patients with chronic pain and lower limb issues to wear the SoPhy socks while performing exercises during video consultations.

The trial found physical therapists' confidence in their assessments increased when consulting with patients using SoPhy, in part because the socks provided movement information that wasn't visible in a traditional video visit. Patients also benefited from real-time feedback on subtle movement changes.

Ms. Aggarwal said in an April 9 statement SoPhy isn't a replacement for face-to-face consultations, but supports remote visits as a next-best solution. She noted the socks may be able to enhance face-to-face assessments of a patient's condition, as well.

"Physiotherapy is all about movement," she said. "To assess patients' recovery, physiotherapists must be able to closely observe the subtle differences in their movements."

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