Improving Exercise Compliance with Mobile Apps

Software designed to motivate people to do their exercises has been around for a long time. Before smartphones became widespread this was usually reserved for the very dedicated or the very nerdy. Nicely formatted graphs or just tables can be a great motivator, but having to boot up a desktop to enter results of a run or a workout was just too much effort for most people.  Initially smartphones made this easier just by being switched on and close to hand. But increasingly smartphones are being used to record the workout, provide prompts and share your experience and victories with friends and followers.

While physios clearly have an interest in peoples cardiovascular and general fitness it is in the area of musculoskeletal and orthopedic compliance that mobile phone apps are really of useful. The evolution of exercise prescription has gone something like this:

  1. Show the patient what to do in the clinic. Maybe draw some stick people for them – maybe not. Forget to tell them ‘how often’.
  2. Choose some exercises using a software package. Print them. Hand them to the patient to independently manage.
  3. Email the chosen exercises to the patient. Patient archives email. What exercises?

An innovative solution on this evolutionary roadmap is to send the patient’s exercises to an app on their smartphone. This means that the phone can remind them as often as you would like. Patients can view high quality images and read customised instructions. Messaging can be integrated (big brother, but nice) and compliance can be tracked. Research related to weight loss has demonstrated the benefits of messaging in improving compliance, the principles should be similar for musculoskeletal and orthopaedic conditions.

PhysioTrack is one mobile phone exercise reminder app for your physiotherapy patients. Using a web based application the physiotherapist can choose a set of exercises for prescription to a patient. The patient then receives an email with a link to all the available apps (Android or iPhone). Their prescription is loaded into the app automatically and reminders are set so once the app has been downloaded by the patient they are set to go.  The ability to mark when exercises have been completed is a great feature that links back to the web-based prescription and allows the clinician to see how compliant their patients have been with their exercises.

Over time you can use data collected by these systems to find out what works. This is not an attempt to second guess a physiotherapists expertise, but if the data has something to suggest, wouldn’t you like to hear it?   Another step in treating your patients is not likely to bring a smile to your face and how long this process takes is very important. The right system should allow you to build up sets of protocols that you use frequently and therefore reuse should be the work of moments.

Beyond the medical benefits there are business benefits.  The information that these apps can provide on patient compliance will be of great interest to referring stakeholders in a clients health.  No doubt insurance companies will be interested in this type of information.  In addition, you can include information on the app that you want them to have close at hand – your contact details, selected articles from your website and a map to your clinic, even your twitter feed.  An easy and non-invasive way to promote your services!