Technology for people who have suffered a stroke gets a research boost

Neurological physiotherapist and academic Rachel Stockley is the second physio in the UK to receive a prestigious national research fellowship. 


She has been awarded the UK Research and Innovation future leaders fellowship, worth nearly £1.2m, to study how digital health technologies in rehabilitation can be designed, developed and implemented.

Dr Stockley said: ‘It is important to highlight that physios and other AHPs really do have an important role and have to be a key voice in the “digital transformation”. 


'Up to 80 per cent of digital health technologies fail to be sustainably adopted into healthcare; changing this presents a complex challenge requiring understanding of human and organisational behaviour as well as how best to design and implement the tech itself.

'Whilst there are several key leaders who are physios in this field, lots of physios are being digitally transformed rather than having their say in the processes and influencing if and how we use tech in practice.’

First physio to win prestigious award

Improving patient and carer outcomes of acute rehabilitation after hip fracture is the aim of Katie Sheehan's £1m fellowship.

She was the first allied health professional to receive a UKRI future leaders fellowship, in September 2019, and will begin work on 1 July.

Katie Sheehan, the first physiotherapist future leaders fellowship winner

Dr Sheehan will carry out a research programme looking at a stratified approach to rehabilitation after hip fracture. It will build on her work as principal investigator of a project funded by the CSP Charitable Trust and the National Institute for Health Research.

'I will lead the first team to capitalise on rich national data and a strong patient voice to inform a stratified approach to rehabilitation,' said the King’s College London health services research lecturer.

'A stratified approach considers an entire population to identify subgroups with different risk of poor outcomes.  Subgroups are then matched to interventions tailored to their needs to optimise outcomes across the  entire population.

'The feasibility of this approach will be tested in the clinical setting during the fellowship.'

Euan McComiskie, CSP health informatics lead said: ‘Lots of technology is available for the use in MSK physiotherapy. Much less in rehabilitation and even less so in the area of stroke rehab so the funding for some research to valuate use of tech is really welcome. Particularly right now where stroke rehab has the additional challenges of remote working, PPE, isolation etc to contend with as well as the usual challenges. 

Bigger voice

‘This is a great opportunity for some digital physios to have a bigger voice in digital transformation and lead rather than being led.’

The research project is entitled Delivering the Digital Ambition: Exploring how we can design, implement and evaluate digital technologies in healthcare. It will look at harnessing the potential of health technologies to improve rehabilitation after people have suffered a stroke.

Dr Stockley said: “I am very excited to receive the fellowship as it allows me to think and work across traditional disciplinary boundaries which I believe is necessary to tackle complex problems.

Interdisciplinary networks

'I am looking forward to building new skills in digital design, health technologies and advanced research leadership, which will enhance my knowledge and skills in healthcare. I am excited to make new interdisciplinary networks alongside delivering an ambitious, but much needed, research project which I believe will deliver real benefit for people who have a stroke.'
The fellowship will provide the equivalent of four years’ full-time funding to build a small team, cover research costs and fund a diverse package of training and travel as well as a range of opportunities to influence both the national and global research and innovation agenda.

She will work with fellow University of Central Lancashire academics Caroline Watkins, professor of stroke and older people’s care;  Beverly Ellis, academic lead in health informatics; and Dan Fitton, lecturer in interaction design. They will be joined by Marion Walker (University of Nottingham) and John W Krakauer (Johns Hopkins University, USA) along with staff and patients from Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Trust.

Harness technology

Ms Stockley said: “The project will tackle a very complex problem by enabling us to understand how we can design, develop and implement digital health technologies into clinical practice and enable us to harness the potential of technology to transform healthcare.

'I am hugely passionate about stroke rehabilitation and believe that if we can successfully use digital technologies to help us provide more evidence based therapy to people after stroke, we could make a huge difference to the outcomes of stroke survivors both in the UK and globally.'
She added: 'The award recognises UCLan’s strength and depth in applied research and particularly the expertise and world-class reputation of the stroke research team. Personally, as an allied health professional and physiotherapist, I believe that the award highlights the potential that health professionals have in transforming the wider research and innovation agenda and driving visionary global research that makes a real difference to practice.'


The future leaders fellowship provided by UK Research and Innovation is a really great opportunity for physios and other allied health professionals to gain substantial and long-term research funding that facilitates training and travel as well as providing a network of peers who are working across all aspects of science, the arts, engineering and humanities, Ms Stockley said.

'It is definitely something I would encourage others to apply for.'

Future leader fellowships is a £900m fund that is helping to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across UK business and academia. The fellowships were announced by the secretary of state in  2018. This cross-UK research and innovation scheme supports researchers and innovators with outstanding potential in universities, UK registered businesses, and other research and user environments including research councils' institutes and laboratories. The support will enable each fellow to tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation and develop their own careers.  Find out more



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