Driving innovation in physio

An Asian man in a suit stands in front of a screen at a conference

Driving innovation in physio

An Asian man in a suit stands in front of a screen at a conference

FOCUS 2022 Across the FOCUS 2022 conference, several sessions provided insight into the use of new technologies, including telehealth and virtual reality, to enhance existing practice. 

‘Innovation starts with a problem,’ said Stephen King, a physiotherapist, innovator and self-confessed lover of data. 

Stephen led a session on innovation that showcased three physiotherapists who have taken their innovations to market. 

In his case, the product was a standardised tool for assessing movement objectively, providing data to back up clinical practice. 

However, Stephen said, it’s important to focus on the customer’s needs, not what you think they might need, when developing a product. 

‘Fall in love with your customers, not your product,’ he told the audience. 

Scott Coleman, whose company Preventure has developed wearable sensor technology to assist with workplace injury prevention, agreed. 

‘Your end user is one of your biggest resources,’ Scott said. 

Curtin University physiotherapy lecturer Leo Ng, one of the finalists in the first PitchFest competition run by the Physiotherapy Research Foundation in 2019, said that it’s important to know what problem you are solving. 

Leo’s product, Research Screener, uses artificial intelligence to assist researchers doing systematic reviews by semi-automating the process of filtering out less relevant research studies and papers. 

‘This product is not about research. 

‘It’s about time. 

‘The problem we are solving is the researcher’s time—instead of spending 200 hours, they can read the abstracts in 50 hours,’ he said. 

Leo said that potential investors in the product, as well as customers, immediately saw the benefits of Research Screener when it was pitched as a time saver. 

Improving telehealth was the topic of several presentations across the conference.

Coviu CEO Silvia Pfeiffer and Brendan Joss, head of Western Australian multidisciplinary clinic HFRC, described the process of developing Coviu’s new tool, PhysioROM, which enables physiotherapists to accurately measure range of motion during telehealth video consultations.

‘These technologies help us to collect data,’ said Silvia. 

‘They don’t replace the need for clinicians.’

Bond University’s Darryn Marks looked at telehealth in musculoskeletal physiotherapy, examining the economic impact of telehealth in public and private practice through a systematic review of current research. 

‘Telehealth is cost-effective for the government in a public health setting, but it’s not so clear in private practice—more research is needed,’ he said. 

Several researchers provided updates on innovative approaches they are developing to increase engagement and measure results of interventions or therapeutic programs. 

Erin MacIntyre from the University of South Australia has developed a virtual reality game that assists with engagement and adherence to a graded exercise program for chronic lower back pain. 

In a second presentation on virtual reality technology from the University of South Australia, Daniel Harvie talked about some applications of virtual reality to provide body image training for people with chronic pain and a walking simulator for people with spinal injuries. 

Stephen Edmondston, physiotherapist and research operations manager at Western Australia’s St John of God Murdoch Hospital, described a system his team has developed to deliver and monitor knee replacement rehabilitation remotely. 

‘Digital technology may improve our ability to access care and enhance autonomy,’ he said. 

Digital technology can also be used to drive behaviour change, according to researchers Huong Ly Tong and Liliana Laranjo, who are looking at smartphone apps and wearable activity trackers. 

Ly said that smart devices including fitness trackers allow users to set and monitor their own goals and provide feedback on those goals, which drives behaviour change. In addition, the ability to connect with other users for support and through competition can increase the effectiveness of the devices. 

Liliana, a GP and digital health specialist, said that personalisation of the user’s experience when using smartphones, watches and activity trackers can increase the effectiveness of these devices—through personalisation and conversational artificial intelligence technologies (for example, Siri or Alexa)—at improving physical activity levels. 


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