SoPhy – Smart socks connecting remote patients and physiotherapists
- University of Melbourne
- Royal Children\'s Hospital
‘SoPhy’ is the world’s first wearable technology designed to support assessment of lower body movements in physiotherapy video consultations. ‘SoPhy’ consists of two parts: (1) a pair of socks with sensors attached that captures the three key aspects of patient’s lower body movements – weight distribution, foot orientation and range of movement, and (2) a web interface that presents the captured data to physiotherapists in real-time. During a video consultation, when a patient performs exercises like squats and toe curls with ‘SoPhy’ socks on, physiotherapist can see the changes in patient’s movements on the web-interface in real-time.
Australian physiotherapists are increasingly relying on video consultations to treat patients. Video consultation is particularly important in Australia because of its large distributed population and the increasing prevalence of long-term conditions like chronic pain. Video technology however, is not an effective platform for medical consultations because it was primarily designed to support verbal communication and not to communicate patient’s bodily data like physical movements.
\’SoPhy\’ is a pioneering solution to video consultations. The system was developed in collaboration with Royal Children’s Hospital following established design methods, and has appeal to a large audience including clinicians, patients and smart textile industries.
The impact of \’SoPhy\’ is substantial. To begin with, it boosted the recovery of three chronic pain patients who used \’SoPhy\’ in the hospital trial. \’SoPhy\’ was featured in 200 media outlets in Australia and overseas, with a combined coverage of 86 million people. Key highlights include video coverage on BBC news, ABC News, and London Science Museum (video series); cover story in The Indian Weekly; and live interview on Channel 9 Today Show. This extensive coverage sparked significant interest in commercialising \’SoPhy\’, with big companies like Arvind textiles (India) and Sensoria (USA) interested in collaborating to conduct large-scale trials of \’SoPhy\’.
In the trial at Royal Children’s Hospital, \’SoPhy\’ was found to increase physiotherapists’ diagnostic confidence by providing key information that wasn’t visible in the video-stream. The system guided more accurate assessment and allowed physiotherapists to better adapt the exercises around the patient’s condition. Patients on the other hand, received real-time feedback on every small changes in their movements that were otherwise difficult to understand, making the therapy more effective.
Seeing the benefits of \’SoPhy\’, the physiotherapists and the hospital staff are keen to adopt \’SoPhy\’ as part of their clinical practice, and patients want to use it for home rehabilitation.
Physiotherapy is all about movements. To assess patients, physiotherapists must be able to closely observe the subtle differences in patient’s movements, e.g., shifts in weight distribution while walking. However, two-dimensional video technology limits physiotherapists in understanding the patient’s actual recovery in the injured body part, resulting in less specific treatment of the patient’s injuries.
\’SoPhy\’ is the first attempt to make physiotherapy video consultations effective. \’SoPhy\’ is innovative because it is rooted in the established physiotherapy practice, and is the result of three years of iterative work across multiple disciplines: Interaction Design, Computer Engineering, and Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
\’SoPhy\’ demonstrates how the use of sensing technologies can make video consultations more effective. The system has significant applications in sports rehabilitation, orthopaedics and geriatrics, and is equally useful in face-to-face consultations. In addition to enriching clinical physiotherapy consultations, \’SoPhy\’ has significant applications to support in-home rehabilitation. Smart textiles like \’SoPhy\’ are the future of computing technologies, not only in hospital settings but also in supporting everyday health and well-being, and hence has the potential to extend the Australian smart textile manufacturing industry significantly.
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