Physical Therapy App Uses Microsoft Kinect

West Health Institute will test new application, which employs Microsoft motion-sensing technology to measure results of exercises at home.

Ken Terry, Contributor

October 1, 2012

4 Min Read

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The West Health Institute has developed an application that uses Microsoft's Kinect for Windows motion tracking technology in at-home physical therapy. The Naval Medical Center of San Diego is about to start clinical trials of the program, known as the Reflexion Rehabilitation Measurement Tool (RMT).

RMT allows physical therapists to customize treatment plans and schedules and potentially to monitor patients remotely to ensure they're exercising properly. Used with Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows motion camera and a Windows 7 personal computer, the program provides interactive feedback and educational materials to patients. These capabilities are expected to help physical therapists and physicians improve patient adherence to the prescribed therapy and ensure the exercises are performed correctly, according to the West Health Institute.

Today, when patients see their physical therapist, they're usually given a piece of paper that provides instructions on how to do the prescribed exercises at home between visits. With RMT, they can plug a Kinect camera into a desktop or a laptop computer, which may be connected to their TV, and do their exercises in front of the screen.

[ Wearable devices equipped with sensors and Web connections help consumers track health and fitness. Take a look at what's possible now. 10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy. ]

The RMT program provides preprogrammed educational messages from the patient's therapist. The on-screen avatar or guide shows them how to do the exercises properly and gives them instant feedback when they're doing something wrong. The therapist can review a record of the sessions before the patient comes in to see whether the patient has been compliant and to help determine what changes may be needed in the exercise regimen.

Commenting on the Naval Medical Center's decision to try RMT, Capt. Eric Hoffmeister, chair of the hospital's orthopedic surgery department, said in a statement, "Naval Medical Center San Diego has many wounded, ill, and injured service members in need of musculoskeletal surgery and rehabilitation. In an ongoing effort to continue to meet the health care needs of our patients and their families, we pursue innovative technology that advances the medical field in order to deliver the best care available while becoming more efficient."

The clinical trials at the Naval Medical Center are expected to go on for six to nine months, said Spencer Hutchins, project lead and co-developer of RMT at the West Health Institute, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. The goal in these studies and clinical trials with other partners, according to Hutchins, is to "prove this is an effective form of therapy" that will lower surgery revision rates and the cost of pain medicine. Not only will this build credibility among medical professionals, he said, but it might also induce payers to cover the cost of the program, including the $199 Kinect camera.

RMT is the first application to use the Microsoft Kinect platform for physical therapy and to go into clinical trials, Hutchins said. A number of software developers have experimented with Kinect and Wii to see if they could be used in physical therapy, but they used off-the-shelf consumer videogames. That approach "can't be part of core therapy," he pointed out, "because it wasn't designed with medicine in mind."

The new Microsoft Kinect for Windows motion-sensing system lends itself to a variety of applications, not just games, Hutchins noted. "Microsoft has opened the platform because they saw so many active developers and other companies and researchers that were interested in using the core capabilities of the camera system. So there are now hundreds of folks in different markets who are looking at it."

The pilot of RMT will be limited to Windows 7 desktop and laptop computers because the commercial version of Windows 8 does not yet support Kinect, a West Health Institute spokeswoman said.

Other researchers have already developed a number of health care uses for Kinect's motion-sensing technology. Kinect has been used in surgery, stroke rehabilitation, and early autism diagnosis, and to help seniors take better care of themselves.

The San Diego-based West Health Institute, funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West, is a non-profit medical research organization whose mission is "to lower health care costs by developing innovative patient-centered solutions," according to a press release. While the organization is known for providing startup capital to mobile health firms through its investment fund and for advocating on behalf of mHealth through its policy center, West Health Institute has also begun to create its own applications, including Sense4Baby, a wireless fetal monitor that it recently spun off to a for-profit firm.

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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