As Australia’s population ages, increasing numbers of people are requiring joint replacement surgery and now patient rehabilitation is being revolutionised by high tech apps.

Driven by advances in personal devices and wearable technology, software developers and medical device companies are tapping into a growing market by releasing applications to help people recover from surgery.

At the CSIRO, the trial of a rehabilitation platform, Johnson & Johnson’s Activate TKR, has been underway for six months and is expected to continue into 2018.

Activate TKR integrates a physiotherapy app, a wearable device and a platform for clinicians to manage data and care.

“It’s for patients to self-monitor and self-manage their rehabilitation,” CSIRO project lead Sazzad Hussain said.

“The clinical portal allows surgeons and physiotherapists to monitor data coming from the wearable device, self-reported pain and range of motion, which all relate to recovery and improvement.”

The trial includes 300 osteoarthritis patients aged between 50–80 years across four sites at hospitals in various states.

It’s an appropriate range, considering the median age for a knee replacement in Australia is 70, but according to orthopaedic surgeons, it’s this median age that has hindered the take up of apps.

“The demographic we are talking about are often over 70, not particularly tech-savvy, and I think often do struggle with entering data into an app, even if a lot of them do have smart phones,” orthopaedic surgeon and second vice-president of the Australia Orthopaedic Association, David Martin, said.

He says the apps represent an emerging technology and few Australians surgeons are using them now.

“At meetings, I have seen some companies present an app and some larger clinics in the United States promote their app at conferences but there’s really nothing that springs to mind as the leader in the field,” Martin said.

New Zealand medical tech start-up, Swibo, has developed a balance board that uses motion sensors in a smartphone to track a patient’s progress during rehabilitation after joint trauma but the real objective is to better engage patients in their rehab.

“We’ve taken that wobble-board training, which is powerful but extremely boring, and turned it into something fun and engaging,” Swibo cofounder and CEO, Ben Dunn, said.

“We add games to it to make it interesting and to help patients comply better and not hate it while they do it.”

Swibo is currently focused on their next generation of boards and getting them into clinics and the hands of physiotherapists, and Dunn believes small start-ups like his can drive innovation among medical device companies.

“Start-ups have agility, and just a willingness and ability to change quickly and to do things. Change their strategy in a day, adapt to the needs of the customer pretty much instantly,” Dunn said.

“It's not a thing that these larger corporations can't do it, but it's a lot harder.”

While start-ups like Swibo may drive innovation, it’s the results of trials like CSIRO’s that Martin is watching.

“The CSIRO trial looks promising. These things are good – they’ll come back with data and I’m sure they’ll have include a measure of how easy it was to use. Once we’ve got that, it will stimulate further research,” he said.



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