Influencing technology

Therapists are perfectly placed to contribute to the development of rehab-related technologies, writes Dr Rachel C Stockley

Dr Rachel C Stockley
Dr Rachel C Stockley is a physiotherapist and senior research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire

Technologies can be clever. Interactive voice assistants, augmented reality and driverless cars are only some of the ways that they are changing how we live and work. However, getting technology into healthcare is challenging and most new technologies introduced to the NHS fail to be adopted. Like many big challenges, 

I believe that working with people from other fields could hold the answer to how we can successfully use technologies to improve outcomes for our patients. 

For the past couple of years I’ve been working with Laura Salisbury, a talented designer from the Royal College of Art. She has developed a smart fabric which can deliver stimulation to the upper limb of people after stroke which has just won the Mayor of London’s Entrepreneur Programme Award for Health.

My input has ensured that the design incorporates the context and practice of, and evidence for, rehabilitation and, working with neuroscientists, unpicking the mechanism by which this fabric might improve upper limb function. I’ve gained knowledge about design from working with her and we have learnt about the elements of design that matter to people after stroke from working with them. 

This work has highlighted to me the critical importance of making sure any technology that is being designed for rehab incorporates our views and those of patients from the outset.

As therapists, we are perfectly placed to not only influence, but to drive technology development; our knowledge about what rehab is and how it occurs is second to none. We don’t have to be technology experts (I am definitely not) but our input is vital to ensure that technologies can make a real difference in practice. 

Technologies can be really clever, but therapists have the crucial wisdom that can ensure their potential to transform rehab and healthcare can be realised.

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