Software may help coordinate physical rehabilitation efforts

Jul 18 2011
Spinal surgery, whether it is done to treat a degenerative condition or to repair damage caused by an injury, is a major operation that requires comprehensive rehabilitation to restore full mobility.

In fact, while many back surgery patients would rather spend time in bed, thinking that rest will promote healing, health experts say a prolonged period of physical inactivity after this type of operation may do more harm than good. That is because the core and peripheral muscles may start to atrophy, depriving the spine of an important support structure.

However, it is very important to make sure that the back exercise regimen is carefully selected and performed under the supervision of a trained physical therapist to maximize benefits and reduce the risks of inadvertent injury. Academic centers have been working for years to help health experts better understand which types of exercises and intensity levels are best for individual patients.

Recently, scientists from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a Germany-based research organization, announced that they are working on an interface that will offer doctors access to comprehensive data on the workout people get on various types of fitness machines. They hope that this will help healthcare providers prescribe rehabilitation programs that are better tailored toward the unique needs of each person.

The researchers explained that currently, there is no system that links the information garnered by physical therapists during workouts - including the progress of muscle buildup, the degree of mobility and the patient's overall health - to physicians' databases. As a result, much vital information that could be used to enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation is wasted.

Sven Meister, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST in Dortmund, says that "the quality of treatment can be greatly improved if medical experts are able to assess training data."

The project is part of a global trend in healthcare towards creating structures such as patient-centered medical homes and electronic medical records that allow all providers involved in a patient's care to have access to his or her health history and data. In turn, this helps to coordinate care, avoid duplication and prevent medical errors.

American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that approximately 4.6 million Americans will need back surgery at some point in their lives.