March 2021

Stanford Undergrads Design Motivator for At-Home PT

Savoldelli and Kalili model the Surge Therapy sleeve.

As undergraduates in Stanford University’s Biodesign for Digital Health course, Ryan Kalili and James Savoldelli set out to help injured athletes do their prescribed physical therapy (PT) regimen that must be done regularly at home to maximize healing.

“On average, 6 months of PT is needed after an injury like a ligament tear in the knee,” said Savoldelli. “A significant share of this has to be done at home, but people find the exercises tedious and the experience lonely. As a result, most patients ‘self-discharge,’ in less than 3 months, leading to poor outcomes and a high rate of reinjury.”

Kalili and Savoldelli uncovered this problem while searching for an important unmet need to address for their class project. To get started, they interviewed numerous Stanford Health Care clinicians and surveyed patients who had received orthopedic care. “Resistance to doing exercises at home came up over and over, so we set out to learn as much as we could about the problem,” said Kalili.

They decided to focus on young athletes as their initial target population as there is a trend of increasing athleticism and related injuries in younger people, and this group is tech-savvy and likely to find a digital solution appealing, said Savoldelli. The team’s first solution concept was to increase patient engagement and adherence by creating a virtual competitive community among PT patients. Over time, however, they realized their idea could offer an even bigger benefit by also helping patients do their at-home exercises more accurately.

The result is Surge Therapy, a technology that combines a digital platform with a physical sleeve that has integrated sensors to track the position and speed of the limb and the angles of joints during exercise. The system allows therapists to deliver customized home rehab programs to their patients and monitor their progress. It provides real-time feedback on accuracy and motivates patients through virtual group PT sessions during which they can benchmark their progress against others, offering a little friendly competition.

The Digital Health course lasted only a quarter, but a Biodesign NEXT funding program gave Kalili and Savoldelli the resources to keep developing the project, including refining the software and building a more robust prototype for testing.

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