In my previous post, I discussed the power of wearable technology to transform orthopedics. I believe we’re on the cusp of a big breakthrough — a future where wearables send a steady stream of data to the cloud, so doctors can see how patients are progressing in real time and can spot troubling patterns before they become serious problems.

It’s coming, and it’s going to revolutionize how we measurement patient outcomes. But we have a ways to go. And to get there, we need to start testing the waters now, with the tools we have today.

A couple years ago, our team at HSS got our feet wet, seeing what we could learn about post-operative recovery using an ordinary smartphone. The results suggested great potential, as well as some limitations.

An Unexpected Opportunity

My research team is a curious bunch, and by 2014, we were already in the thick of another experiment: tracking our daily activity using our phones to get a sense of data accuracy and explore possible uses. Then we stumbled into an unexpected opportunity. One of our research assistants (who had been a collegiate water polo player) decided to have hip arthroscopy surgery to treat his femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), a common hip joint condition in elite athletes.

FAI is an abnormal collision of the neck of the femur and the acetabulum, the socket of the hip joint. It restricts the patient’s range of motion in the hip, and can lead to pain around the joint. In the past, the standard treatment was intensive surgery with a lengthy recovery time that dissuaded a lot of patients. Now surgeons can treat FAI arthroscopically — that is, using an arthroscopic camera — with significantly less pain and a shorter recovery. We’ve seen impressive results from this surgery, including extending professional athletes’ careers. But we have a lot to learn about the details of recovery.

This was a perfect chance to investigate — since our research assistant had been collecting daily step counts, we already had a pre-surgery baseline. So, for a year following his surgery, we kept tracking his steps, and we used weekly smartphone surveys to track pain level and hip function. He also completed conventional patient-reported outcomes measures (PROMs) surveys every three months, as most HSS FAI patients do.

By Stephen Lyman | LinkedIn

Image Credit: Stephen Lyman / LinkedIn

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