Artificial Intelligence (AI) Physical Therapists Could Make You Better, Faster
Anyone who’s ever had physical therapy will tell you it’s a pain in the @$$. A necessary pain, but nonetheless, an immense annoyance. As if fitting regular appointments into your schedule was not arduous enough, sticking to the daily grind of strengthening exercises also requires significant effort.
SWORD Health, a Portugal-based startup has designed a solution to the first part of that problem - fitting in regular appointments. They provide users of their service with wireless motion trackers that attach to their bodies, which feed data back to the company. An AI physical therapist guides patients through a number of exercises, using the trackers to give feedback in real time — “move your leg higher this time,” for example. The exercises are set by a remote team of human clinicians, who check in periodically, and they’re covered by a number of insurance companies worldwide.
Everyone is doing something “AI” these days, so the real test of its effectiveness is the patient data. In this case, it’s looking good. A study published in July 2018, followed two groups of patients as they recovered from a knee injury. Half of them had traditional therapy, and the other half followed SWORD’s program. Their recovery was measured with the Timed Up and Go Test, a CDC recommended mobility test. The group following SWORD’s regime improved twice as much as the conventional physical therapy group. The patients who were treated from their own home also recorded a higher active treatment time — likely due to the ease of use. Another study, published in February 2019 reported that patients using SWORD’s digital therapist maintained their results at three and six-month increments, without extra treatment.
“The demand for physical therapy is rising around the world yet, for the vast majority of people, the therapy they need, in terms of quality and intensity, is out of reach,” said Virgílio Bento, SWORD's CEO.
Bento developed the idea for the company after his brother was injured in a car accident and struggled to get the physical therapy he needed. He founded SWORD Health in 2014 and Crunchbase reports they’ve raised over $7 million in funding.