PT is having an ET moment.
Tech is starting to find its way into physical therapy, as the tools that helped animate Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” series of films are now allowing you to get a trainer-supervised workout in your living room.
Here’s what it looks like: You turn on a TV and start a special program from a company like Reflexion Health, which makes a system called Vera that connects to two cameras you stand in front of. One records your movements for a clinician to watch while the other tracks your body’s joints.
Unlike in the movies, where that kind of information is used to help animate a computer-generated character, these programs show how well you’re doing various exercises.
With Reflexion, you watch an avatar clad in blue and black workout gear — named Vera, or Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant — as she demonstrates proper exercise form for you to follow along with on a TV.
Vera might ask you to hold onto the back of a chair and lift your right leg to the side, for example. If she detects that your left leg is moving forward during the exercise, she’ll tell you to keep it in place.
“Just because the clinician gives you a sheet saying, ‘OK, do these five exercises twice a day,’ it doesn’t mean that it gets done,” said Sudipto Sur, chief technology officer of Reflexion. By comparison, he said, a system that can remind patients about exercises, and help them actually do them, tends to have them do it more.
Vera’s just the latest example of how the tech that’s infiltrated our daily lives is finally finding its way into medicine as well. And that’s pretty noteworthy considering many doctors still carry 1990s-era pagers on their belts and in their purses when they’re on call at their hospitals.
In this case, motion capture technology is finding its way into medicine at a time when it’s booming in mainstream technology. It’s been used for years by Hollywood moviemakers to track an actor’s movements with a camera and computer. Video game makers have also used this technology to help count your score in titles like Ubisoft’s Just Dance.
In the past year or so, tech companies have witnessed motion tracking take off in connection with both virtual reality, in which you’re tricked into thinking you’re in a computer-generated environment, and augmented reality, in which computer-generated images get overlaid on the real world. Facebook and Microsoft, for instance, are using the technology to help make their Oculus and HoloLens headsets track people’s movements as they’re working and playing in virtual worlds.
Now tracking technology is beginning to find its way into telemedicine, a growing field in which patients who live far from a hospital or doctor can communicate with physicians through audio, video and data connections. A patient who’s recently undergone surgery might have difficulty driving to a clinic, or may live far from medical expertise. Telemedicine, through apps like Doctor on Demand, provides a way for them to receive care from a distance.
Image Credit: Reflexion Health