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Using Virtual Reality as a tool for physical therapy is more than a theoretical use case or future concept. In collaboration with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, we developed a VR application to assist recovering patients in their rehabilitation process.
The application was a part of a 6-month pilot study, and evaluated the efficacy of using VR to increase patient accessibility to instruction, patient attrition, and exercise assessments / data collection. The development process took 5 months.
The application exercises target lower-extremity rehabilitation, for high-trauma, post-surgery recovery. More specifically, this application focuses on knee rehabilitation, trains the users on proper exercise technique, collects performance and behavioral data, and challenges patients to continue practicing their technique in a surreal game environment.
The pilot study generated very promising results around the efficacy of virtual reality as a physical therapy tool. In short, VR can be used to improve patient technique with customized instruction and behavioral analytics, increase instruction accessibility with remote use and training, and increase rehabilitation completion rates due to novelty and entertainment from VR and gamification strategies.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock is New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serving a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-H provides access to more than 1,800 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). In 2019, D-H was named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 13 clinical specialties and procedures.
D-H is a leader in medical research, and continues to explore emerging technology as tools to enhance the medical field.
The DH team believes VR could be a great tool to improve three problem areas in modern day physical therapy programs:
A VR physical therapy application using game mechanics is not only entertaining, it increases patient accountability as the therapist can monitor the patients’ actions and behaviors when using the application, including frequency and duration of use, quality of technique, and range of motion.
VR equipment can be taken home, and the application provides technique instruction. This means patients no longer need to come into the clinic for every therapy session, reducing the cost and time investment inherent to travel. This also means the therapist can dedicate more time to other patients, increasing the scalability of their practice.
And finally, with consistent information delivered in the application and behavioral analytics, the therapists know exactly how the instruction is explained to the patients. Additionally, data collection around patient performance and improvements reveal insights into the benefits of certain exercises over others. Therapists can see which exercises lead to the most improvement and best results, refining and enhancing theory around prescribed exercises.
We are currently in the process of pursuing a larger grant to continue building out the application further. We are looking into integrating the data output into patient management systems as well. A web and mobile interface to monitor patient progress is coming soon, and finally, we will explore the benefits of using Augmented Reality for physical therapy as well. The application’s next iteration will include compatibility with the Hololens and Magic Leap headsets.
The study was and continues to be a success, and we look forward to working further with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock team on future iterations of the application. If you are interested in learning more about the study findings, application features, project friction points and breakthroughs, and other information on the nuts and bolts of the process, please reach out. We are happy to discuss further, in an effort to advance the physical therapy space. And if you are interested in working with us, shoot us a note. We work on projects across AEC, automotive, immersive design tools / industrial design, training, and healthcare.