Innovation lends a hand to stroke therapy

Aug 14 2017

Professor Paulette Van Vliet

A world-first app developed in conjunction with the University of Newcastle (UON) will improve the rehabilitation process for patients suffering from an arm impairment due to stroke.

Occupational therapists and physiotherapists will have best-practice rehabilitation strategies available at their fingertips with the ViaTherapy app, which translates international stroke guidelines into suggested exercises for clinicians tailored to individual patients.

UON’s Professor of Stroke Rehabilitation, Paulette van Vliet, worked on part of the app dealing with effective interventions for patients three months post-stroke who had some shoulder and finger movements.

“This application distils thousands of scientific papers, which are at times conflicting, into one application that delivers the most precise, patient-specific advice,” Professor van Vliet said.

“It’s an incredibly valuable resource for clinicians who can now access the best, most current advice and help deliver the best outcome for patients in this critical recovery period,” she added.

The app’s internal algorithm considers information inputted by the clinician: how long it has been since the patient’s stroke, how severe their impairment is and whether they have any additional cognitive or language impairments.

Based on these factors, it offers a list of suggestions of which rehabilitation exercises would best promote progress for the patient, such as repetitive task-specific training or electrical stimulation for motor recovery.

Professor van Vliet, who is an affiliate of the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI*), said the app also considers treatments based on how far along the patient is in their recovery.

“People who have retained some movement ability have a better chance of recovery and can do more task-based therapy and strength training, whereas those who have retained less ability may be more suited to electrical stimulation or mental practice,” she explained.

ViaTherapy was a five-year international collaboration co-led by Dr Mark Bayley from the University Health Network Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and Dr Steve Wolf from Emory University in Atlanta.

“The app closes the gap between clinician workload and their capacity to search literature for evidence-based therapies or evaluate existing research on their own,” Dr Bayley said.

“It is currently only available for stroke patients with upper extremity movement loss, but could be expanded in the future to various areas of rehabilitation medicine,” he added.

The free app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play and www.viatherapy.org.

The development of this app was funded by the Toronto Rehab Foundation and the Canadian Stroke Network. ViaTherapy was created by Pivot Design Group.