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Healthcare: Motion measurement and the future of treatment

Mar 18, 2022

Nick Bolton, CEO, discusses motion measurement and the future of treatment in the Augmented Age

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and has truly provided remote healthcare – or telemedicine – with its moment. In a relatively short time we have become used to digital and virtual ways of diagnosis and treatment. Since the pandemic doctors are reported to be seeing 50 to 175 times more patients remotely than before, with a potential $250 billion of current healthcare spending to be virtualised in the United States alone.[i] This could be just the tip of the iceberg, however, as the next few years will see all aspects of healthcare – from diagnosis, to treatment, to recovery and preventative care – become virtual.

This next wave of digital transformation in healthcare will be powered by smart sensing. This refers to solutions that utilise a range of sensed data in new and transformative ways to improve outputs and outcomes: from sensing to sensemaking. Instead of simply changing healthcare interventions as we know them to a virtual form, smart sensing will change the ways that doctors and healthcare professionals can understand issues, and better integrate treatment and rehabilitation into our daily lives.

This revolution is closer than we think. For the past 35 years, Vicon motion capture systems have been used to understand our biomechanics and in the treatment of mobility challenges, providing a blueprint for how sensed data and smart sensing solutions can be used to transform diagnostics and treatment. We are now at a point where this level of insight is no longer confined to expert labs and research facilities, but will become part of our everyday lives. The next five years will see smart sensing become common place in diagnostics and treatment at all levels – not simply making consultation virtual, but virtualising all aspects of the entire diagnosis, treatment, and recovery life cycle. Most excitingly of all, the technology to make this happen is likely already on your wrist or in your pocket.

The smart sensing revolution

It isn’t surprising that mobility treatment and diagnosis has seen this digital medicine revolution. Our mobility and our ability to move is central to our well-being: everything that we do to increase our health and happiness needs to be supported by good mobility. With an ageing population, it is more vital than ever that we all approach mobility as a foundational part of our wellbeing.

Mobility is complex and challenging. Simply focusing on one area or pain point is insufficient to understanding the interconnectedness of how we move. A more comprehensive, connected approach is required, as our mobility is an interconnected system. Traditionally, tools such as the goniometer have been used to understand the range of motion on a patient, but this is treating a 3-dimensional problem in a 2-dimensional way. By providing a wealth of connected data, smart sensing applications allow us to understand and interrogate mobility and movement in this 3D way – as it operates in the real world.

Vicon has led the way in enabling mobility to be understood and treated in this complex, 3D way. Vicon systems have been used to treat patients and deliver more sophisticated interventions in mobility issues at institutions like Shriners Hospitals for Children in the USA and Guy’s St Thomas Hospital in UK since the 1990s.

As we enter the Augmented Age, the next inflection point will be to expand this smart sensing power beyond the lab or the clinic and embed this motion measurement in our day to day lives, using technology that is already in our pockets or on our wrists.

The next five years will see smart sensing become common place in diagnostics and treatment at all levels – not simply making consultation virtual, but virtualising all aspects of the entire diagnosis, treatment, and recovery life cycle...

Nick Bolton, CEO, Oxford Metrics

From pain points to data points

Wearable smart sensing technologies are already an everyday part of many of our healthcare decisions. If you use a step counter to hit fitness goals, a smart phone to track your sleep cycle, or a smartwatch to suggest when we should train and rest, then you are already part of the smart sensing revolution in healthcare. Even sensing applications like blood oxygen and blood sugar measurements are possible with available technology today. 32% of the UK is estimated to own a smart watch or health tracking device, with that figure rising to 37% for Millennials.[ii]

This everyday sensed data has revolutionary potential for diagnosis and treatment. Combining data from a smartwatch with more targeted insights from inertial sensors or analysis from a high-precision motion measurement system, for instance, can provide a dramatically broader constellation of data points to healthcare professionals, allowing them to interrogate a problem in a more complex and holistic way than before. This also allows doctors to understand how mobility issues play out in the real world, as we move through our lives.

For patients, this means more targeted interventions and making treatment for recovery more efficient. There is an economic upside too: with insurers increasingly focused on maintaining rehabilitation compliance,[iii] the integration of smart sensing into rehabilitation and recovery allows doctors to understand how patients are progressing – and helping to encourage and maintain patient compliance in rehabilitation, which has traditionally been a challenging area for treatment.

The ability of this smart sensing approach to provide deeper insights and extend the treatment journey for mobility issues has already shown benefits in areas where movement and recovery are vital issues. Vicon technology has helped experts at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall – the UK’s most advanced mobility rehabilitation centre – lead the way in developing better understandings of mobility for military rehabilitation, and thereby improving outcomes for patients.[iv]

The revolution will be digitised

The future of healthcare will include visions of hologram consultations, remote surgeries, and sophisticated digital human twin modelling. But we don’t have to wait for this future, as digital medicine is already here. Those suffering from or treating mobility impairments know just how revolutionary a change of a few degrees can be. So too, this revolution in healthcare is taking small changes to deliver revolutionary outcomes.

Something as simple as sharing the data on our smartwatches with healthcare professionals and researchers might not feel revolutionary, but within that small change alone radiates millions of data points to help our own treatment, and those of others. Measurement really matters.

[i] McKinsey, Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?, May 2020
[ii] Survey via Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1044033/uk-smartwatch-health-trackert-ownership/
[iii] Vicon, A Deeper Understanding of Movement, October 2020
[iv] Vicon, Inside Stanford Hall: The Most Advanced Rehabilitation Centre In The UK, June 20

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