Start-up hopes to revolutionise physiotherapy

Virgilio Bento hopes to transform the way patients who have had a stroke or an accident recover (Reuters, 2017).

He was inspired to do something after his brother had to go to Cuba twenty years ago to receive cheap physiotherapy as he recovered from a life threatening car crash back home in Portugal. Now, after developing technology that uses body sensors and artificial intelligence for his doctorate in electronic engineering, Virgilio Bento aims to transform the way victims of strokes and accidents physically recover.

The Stroke Wearable Operative Rehabilitation Device (SWORD) provides an exercise program on a tablet computer, which gives instructions to a patient, whose movements are monitored by sensors strapped to the body. Progress reports are sent through the cloud to a remote physiotherapist, who can alter the exercises by sending instructions back to the tablet for the patient to see.

Virgilio Bento said “It’s not magic, it’s simple. I saw first hand very vividly the challenges that my parents faced to provide intensive physical rehabilitation. I thought to myself ‘ok this is a huge challenge that nobody is looking at, nobody is trying to solve, I will try to solve it’.”

Tom Paprocki, managing director of the innovation and technology centre at Direct Supply, said “There aren’t enough therapists and the numbers are only going to go up. This kind of technology will help bridge that gap.” He has vetted 1,400 technology start-ups in the sector and placed Virgilio Bento’s system in the top five.

Virgilio Bento’s idea is simple, it offers patients physical, interactive rehabilitation in the comfort of their own home by getting rid of the need for difficult and expensive visits to a physiotherapist at a clinic. It has taken years to refine and adapt, relying on unique sensor technology and the latest advances in cloud computing. Initial results show 93% of patients improved their motor performance using the exercises provided by the system.

The yearly estimated cost of treating and caring for stroke patients, where Virgilio Bento has concentrated his research, €30bn in Europe and €57bn, according to a report provided by Virgilio Bento’s company, SWORD Health, to the European Commission (SWORD Health, 2017). Virgilio Bento says his system, which gives patients immediate feedback and a score on the number of right and wrong movements they perform, will cost a tenth of the price of physiotherapy.

Fifty six year old Alvaro, who used the system after hip surgery, said “At the end of each exercise the results appear, how many times I did the movements, how many medals I won. There is virtual compensation if you do the exercises well, it’s kind of fun and ends up being a bit of a game as well.”

Virgilio Bento won a development grant of €1m from the EU in 2014 under a program for technology models promising to ultimately disrupt existing markets. He has since raised €1m from private investors, and is now launching another financing round of €3m as he rolls out SWORD in the US.

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