Telemedicine applied to kinesiotherapy for hand dysfunction in patients with systemic sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis

This report describes a feasibility study focused on a telemonitoring approach to self-managed kinesiotherapy sessions for the rehabilitation of hand function in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Ten patients with SSc and 10 with RA were placed in a 3-month controlled trial (approval no. 9751/2012 – Italian Department of Health) to perform a home kinesiotherapy protocol, consisting of strengthening and mobility exercises, using a newly created telemedicine system (a portable device and the related telemonitoring infrastructure). A further 10 patients with SSc and 10 with RA were enrolled as controls to perform a similar home kinesiotherapy protocol with the aid of common daily-life objects. Both groups were evaluated at baseline and at followup, after 6 and 12 weeks. The primary outcome of the trial was hand function measured by Dreiser’s index (Functional Index for Hand OA, FIHOA), Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), and the Hand Mobility in Scleroderma (HAMIS) test (only for Ssc). Patients with SSc showed an improvement of FIHOA in both arms (p < 0.01) but the HAQ (p = 0.016) and the HAMIS test (right hand p = 0.016, left hand p = 0.075) improved significantly only in the experimental arm. Patients with RA showed a statistically significant improvement of FIHOA (p = 0.013) and HAQ (p = 0.015) in the experimental arm, while patients in the control arm did not significantly improve. However, no statistically significant differences in outcome measures between treatment methods were seen. Withdrawals were higher in control arms (SSc 20%; RA 30%) than in experimental arms (SSc 10%; RA 10%).

This study found telemonitoring of self-administered kinesiotherapy programs to be a promising approach to the rehabilitation of hand functions in individuals with rheumatic disease.