Supporting Bodily Communication in Video Consultations of Physiotherapy

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Physiotherapists assess, diagnose and treat people with movement problems. Their assessment and diagnosis relies on close observations and hands-on work with patients to detect subtle differences in body movement, e.g., lack of balance in squats, abnormal distribution of weight on the affected foot, or limitations in range of movement for different joints. These treatments are typically based on exercises and education to help patients improve their movements and resume their normal lifestyle.

Increasingly, physiotherapists are starting to use video conferencing tools to conduct consultations over a distance. Such consultations are referred to as video consultations. Since in video consultations, patients and physiotherapists are available at two remote ends, this research is motivated to understand how do physiotherapists assess and treat patients during video consultations; And how can interactive technologies enhance the capabilities of physiotherapists to make video consultations effective?

To start with, I investigated the current practises of video consultations in order to understand the challenges faced by physiotherapists in assessing patients over video. This study involved observations of 10 naturally occurring face-to-face and video consultations of physiotherapy at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.The study highlighted the need to design a technology that can offer better understanding of the subtleties related to lower body movements to physiotherapists, as these are more challenging to observe over video.

To support lower limb assessment over video, I have designed a wearable technology called SoPhy. SoPhy captures and presents information related to weight distribution, foot orientation and range of movement. SoPhy consists of two parts: (1) a pair of socks with embedded sensors for patients to wear, and (2) a web interface that presents the captured information to physiotherapists in real-time. Laboratory evaluation of SoPhy showed that SoPhy increased the confidence of physiotherapists in assessing squats exercise and fewer repetitions were required to assess patients when using SoPhy.

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As a final step, I am currently studying the use of SoPhy with patients and physiotherapists during video consultations at the Royal Children’s Hospital. SoPhy has quickly become a part of clinical practise of physiotherapists with significant benefits to patients in making the therapy goals intuitive and easier to achieve. As such, it is appreciated as a valuable tool for both assessment and treatment of patients with weight bearing issues.

Here is a short video on the working of SoPhy during video consultations

Here are the slides of my PhD completion seminar:

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