In the not-so-distant future, physical therapy patients could toss their hand outs with stick-figure drawings to the wind and instead do their prescribed exercises in the company of virtual physical therapists.
A new system using avatars and patient-specific motions offers new promise for physical therapy.
Computer scientist Marcelo Kallmann once used his expertise in computer animation, virtual reality and motion planning to develop new applications for video games.
Then he shifted his focus. He knew gaming systems like Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect had the potential to go beyond entertainment. He asked himself: “Could we use those same technologies to create therapeutic medical tools and to improve and deliver health care?”
Now the associate professor at UC-Merced is working on an answer to that question, one that could offer a long-term solution to an anticipated shortage of physical therapists — virtual physical therapy software.
Kallmann has collaborated with Jay Han, an expert in physical medicine and rehabilitation at UC-Davis. Han has long been an advocate for melding medicine and technology. As baby boomers age, he said it’s vital to come up with new ways of delivering health care.
“We’ve got to rely on innovativeness and technology to make the medical field more efficient, to see patients in a more targeted manner,” Han said.
With the help of engineers and physical therapists, they have developed a low-cost prototype that uses Kinect. The prototype is being evaluated at UC-Davis, and as physical therapists provide input, refinements are made.
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