At first glance, the concept of physical therapy may not appear to lend itself well to telemedicine due to the physical nature of the specialty, but therapists and patients are finding that physical therapy and telemedicine work surprisingly well in certain situations—especially considering the convenience and low cost to patients. Now, a pair of “smart socks” may revolutionize telemedicine visits with physiotherapists and other such specialists.
The smart socks contain sensors that capture information including range of movement, weight distribution, and foot orientation for the lower limbs. The socks use a web-interface that presents the information to therapists through foot sketches. During a teletherapy session, patients wear the socks and perform the same exercises that they would do during an in-person visit, such as squats or toe curls.
In trials, the socks helped therapists feel more confident in their assessments due to the additional, nonvisible movement-related data. Patients especially appreciated the real-time feedback on their movements and exercises, which improved their understanding of how to do the exercises properly; this made the therapy goals feel simpler and more achievable.
In addition, the additional data helped physiotherapists overcome misleading visual cues, thus allowing them to more accurately adapt the exercises to the patient’s true condition; sometimes, for instance, patients subconsciously favor an injured leg, which can subtly skew the perceived results of the exercises.
The inventor of the smart socks, Deepti Aggarwal, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, explains that the technology is not intended to replace face-to-face consultations, but it can offer a practical solution for remote patients in critical situations. Other industry experts see teletherapy as a way to increase compliance at home with follow-up care post-discharge or for those with chronic conditions.
At the same time, patients are asking for more time-efficient and less costly care models, according to the American Physical Therapy Association, because busy lifestyles make it difficult to attend traditional appointments. As healthcare delivery shifts, companies are evolving to meet those needs; TheraNow, a recently launched teletherapy platform, links patients to physical therapists through online sessions outside business hours—and outside the therapist’s office.
Smart socks may be one of the first technologies to transmit data to remote physical therapists, but they’re just a start; if other devices similar to smart socks can be developed for various body parts, physical therapy and rehabilitation may become a lot easier and more popular among patients.
To learn more about the smart socks, visit Futurity here.