Technology monitors impact of physiotherapy at home

Researchers in Germany are developing technology to monitor patients performance and vital signs as they conduct physiotherapy exercises at home.

The system created by a team at Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) in Berlin comprises a small computer with a camera and microphone that works with a mobile sensor unit and smartphone to collect data on the patient, and transmit it to the physiotherapist via the internet for analysis.

This will allow the therapist to assess how well the patient is performing the exercises, how effective they are and how much strain they are putting on the patient’s body, and adjust the training programme accordingly without the need for a physical consultation.

The mobile unit could also enable patients to conduct exercises while on the move.

‘Sensors placed in a chest strap, watch or walking stick measure vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure or the quality of the patient’s movement, sending the data to a smartphone,’ said FOKUS project manager Dr Michael John in a statement.

The therapist can set threshold values using the system’s exercise editor software. For example, if a patient’s pulse reaches a level that exceeds the limit set for them, a warning signal is emitted.

‘We’re working on how to get the mobile unit to analyse the patient’s quality of movement as well,’ added John. ‘To do this, we’re using motion-tracking sensors that analyse limb movements in relation to each other and in terms of absolute position.’

One of the practical problems of developing the system is setting a transmission standard for movement measurement data so that it can be read by a variety of devices.

There is already a standard for data relating to the vital signs — ISO 11073 — that specifies how to transmit data between devices from a variety of manufacturers without any problems.

‘We’re in the process of developing a similar standard for movement measurement data, in collaboration with doctors and therapists,’ said John.

The software, hardware and mobile unit of the system have already been tested on patients and modified accordingly. A field test involving a larger group of patients is due to follow in February 2013.