Wearable technology and Physical Therapy: Compliments To Effective Care

In today’s digital age, there are a wide variety of fitness tracker and technological options for fitness enthusiasts. These fitness trackers have been shown to help people with maintaining a good level of fitness, however, they can be just as effective with patients and performing physical therapy. Large volumes of research exist that show that measurable benchmarks and goals allow patients to actively participate in his or her care. There are many different types of fitness trackers that you can use, however, there are some key features and functions that you want for fitness and tech trackers. 

The main features that you want for fitness trackers include:

  1. Pulse tracking – This will help with patient’s heart rate during exercise. This can help with patients who are in therapy for endurance and activity tolerance training. Some of these patients include: heart failure, COPD, generalized weakness, and general malaise. Typically you want their max heart rate at 220 – age, and an appropriate range for fitness levels of heart rates 0-30 beats within their max heart rate, or 85 % of their max. This allows the patient to achieve maximum level of benefit from therapy and exercise. 
  2. Pedometer functions – This allows patients to track the amount of steps that they take in a given day. These functions can come included with devices such as Apple Watch or Fitbits, or you can get an individual pedometer that are typically less expensive. Studies have shown that most health adults should take 10,000 steps per day. This has been associated with low body fat, lower body weight, decreased cardio-vascular disease, and lower rates of all-cause mortality. This would be a good metric to use with patients who have low fitness levels, or patients who are eager to participate in a fitness program at home. This can allow a patient to track activity levels, record them, and give them to the therapist at regularly scheduled visits. 
  3. Mileage trackers – This will give the patient input to how far they have walked. Like the step tracker, this can give the patient information about how active they are being and the total mileage that they are accumulating during therapy. This would be important in the overweight or obese population. The therapist could set goals for the patient to walk a certain amount of miles per day. Additionally, this could be used for patients who undergo complex surgeries and ensuring that patients do not exceed their allowable mileage. 
  4. Miscellaneous – Some other metrics that you want to track would be blood pressure or pulse oximetry. Unfortunately, these do not exist yet as integrated into products such as the Apple Watch or the Fitbit. These functions are available in separate devices that you would have to purchase. The blood pressure cuffs can come at the arm or wrist, with the arm pressure cuffs being more accurate, but the wrist cuffs being more convenient. Pulse oximeters can help to measure SPO2 in the blood and would be important to measure a patient’s response to exercise. Both the pulse oximeter and the blood pressure cuff would be important in patient populations including: COPD, heart failure, post op cardiac surgery, diabetes, and generalized weakness. Additionally, some wearable devices have purported to track and be able to measure ECG (Electro Cardio Grams), however, this has not been adequately studied for their reliability and efficacy. 
  5. Video/Smart Phone Apps – There are applications that patients could use to help communicate with the PT or for more accurate home exercise program demonstrations. Video applications such as myRehab or iOrtho have education and demonstration videos that allow patients to more accurately follow their home program and understand their condition or disease process. 

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