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First-of-its-kind app offers personalized rehab therapy for stroke patients

Dr. Mark Bayley, Medical Director, Brain and Spinal Cord Rehab Program, Toronto Rehab, co-led the development of this app with a group of international colleagues. (Video: UHN)
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​TORONTO, April 12, 2017 – A new, first-of-its-kind app is now available to support clinicians with decisions on best practice rehabilitation strategies for patients ​with arm impairment due to stroke.

The ViaTherapy app, developed through a worldwide collaboration of stroke rehab researchers co-led by Drs. Mark Bayley, Medical Director, Brain and Spinal Cord Rehab Program, Toronto Rehab, and Steven Wolf of Emory University, is the result of a five-year process which aimed to make the Stroke Rehabilitation Guidelines more accessible to clinicians.

ViaTherapy translates the guidelines to a decision-making algorithm for occupational therapists and physiotherapists to use with their patients.

"The right treatment for a patient today may not be the right treatment for them in three weeks," says Dr. Bayley. "In a sports setting, a good coach will always progress training as the player gets better. We tried to capture how a clinician should also evolve therapy to involve new treatments depending on how far along the patient is in their recovery."

The app's internal algorithm considers information inputted by the clinician: how long it has been since the patient's stroke, how severe their impairment is and whether they have any additional medical conditions. Based on these factors, it offers a list of suggestions of which rehabilitation exercises would best promote progress for the patient, such as assessments of certain movements and electrical stimulation for motor recovery.

According to Dr. Bayley, earlier research showed that because clinicians commit a large portion of their workdays to patient care, they often don't have the capacity to search the literature for evidence-based therapies, or didn't necessarily have the confidence to evaluate existing research on their own.

"After processing vast amounts of rehab literature, we created this app which would close that gap," says Dr. Wolf, Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine. "ViaTherapy will assist clinicians in recalling established therapies and learning about new ones."

From experience using the app personally and with Occupational Therapy students, Debbie Hebert, Clinic Lead for the Rocket Family Upper Extremity Clinic at Toronto Rehab, says this is a great tool for clinicians of all experience levels.

"It saves you a step – instead of looking through the evidence, it brings you to it right away which allows you to go into the techniques," says Hebert, who is also the Practice Lead in Occupational Therapy at Toronto Rehab.

"It doesn't take the art of physiotherapy or occupational therapy away in any way," she says. "The choice is still up to the clinician. This just helps you make sure you're considering all of the treatment options for your particular patient."

While the app is only available for stroke patients with upper extremity movement loss, Dr. Bayley sees an opportunity to one day expand it to various areas of rehabilitation medicine.

"This type of application has the potential to support clinicians who work with patients with Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury and many other conditions that limit movement," he says. "In order to give the patient the best treatment available, this is how rehabilitation medicine should present its guidelines."

ViaTherapy is now available for free in Apple's App Store and Google Play for Android devices.

The development of this app was funded by the Toronto Rehab Foundation and the Canadian Stroke Network. ViaTherapy was created by Pivot Design Group.

About Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
As the world-leading rehabilitation research centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute is revolutionizing rehabilitation by helping people overcome the challenges of disabling injury, illness or age related health conditions to live active, healthier, more independent lives. It integrates innovative patient care, ground breaking research and diverse education to build healthier communities and advance the role of rehabilitation in the health system.  Toronto Rehab, along with Toronto Western, Toronto General and Princess Margaret Hospitals and the Michener Institute for Education at UHN, is a member of the University Health Network and is affiliated with the University of Toronto. 

About University Health Network 
University Health Network consists of Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and The Michener Institute of Education at UHN. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. www.uhn.ca 

About Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery

The HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery is a joint initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Canada's eight leading university and hospital-based stroke recovery research centres. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa, the Partnership is restoring lives through research. The Partnership supports the popular Stroke Engine website, www.strokengine.ca, which is the go-to site for patients, families and clinicians for information on stroke rehabilitation and recovery. Resources, tools and videos are also available at www.canadianstroke.ca

About Pivot Design Group

Living at the intersection of research and design, Pivot Design Group is a user-centered design studio keen on solving problems for organizations needing to translate evidence-based research into usable products and services which impact the health and well-being of people. For the ViaTherapy project, we applied our user-centred design methodologies, which focus on understanding the needs and contexts of a patient, clinician, caregiver, and/or stakeholder. Founded in 1998, and located in Toronto, Pivot Design Group is known for its unique process — Informed Design — and for its many strengths and successes in product and service design within the healthcare, financial, and not for profit sectors. pivotdesigngroup.com

Media Contact
Ana Gajic
Public Affairs and Communications
University Health Network
Phone : 416 340 4800 ext. 6765
Email: ana.gajic@uhn.ca​​

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