New ‘smart socks’ are helping physiotherapists assess and treat patients living remotely.
Physiotherapists currently rely on video consultations to treat rural and remote patients, which reduces time and costs for patients travelling to the hospital.
But video consultations only provide a two-dimensional view of the patient.
Smart socks provide important information on weight distribution and range of movement during exercises like steps, squats or jumps – things that can’t be seen in a video.
The wearable technology, called ‘SoPhy,’ developed by PhD candidate Deepti Aggarwal at The University of Melbourne, was trialled with three patients and a physiotherapist at Brisbane’s Royal Children’s Hospital, from February to June 2017.
The trial, involved patients with chronic pain, and were found to increase physiotherapists’ confidence in their assessments by providing information that isn’t visible in video consultations.
The information also helped them correct their assessment when the visual cues were misleading.
“Physiotherapy is all about movement. To assess patient recovery, physiotherapists must closely observe the subtle differences in their movements,” Ms Aggarwal said.
“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 consists of three sensors embedded in socks that patients wear while performing exercises, and a web-interface that displays the captured data in real time for the physiotherapists.
The idea for the socks came from Ms Aggarwal’s observations at the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Her motivation to develop the socks increased when her father, living in a small town in India, injured his ankle and could not access treatment.
Ms Aggarwal said the socks are not a replacement for face-to-face consultations, but rather a solution to support patients in critical situations such as those who have mobility issues.
Ms Aggarwal also said she is 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.
The socks, although not currently ready for purchase, cost around $300 to make and would be available to patients working with a physiotherapist through tele-consultation.
While this might sound costly for a pair of socks, Ms Aggarwal said in cases where patients need years of treatment, the cost of travel and accommodation would far outstrip this.