Wellington-based startup Swibo gamifies physiotherapy by turning smartphones into balance boards

- September 1, 2016 3 MIN READ

One of the luxuries of taking out healthcare cover means that services like basic physio are free for a certain number of sessions. With the increasing population and rising private healthcare membership coverage in Australia, physiotherapy is expected to reach $1.5 billion in revenue by the end of this year.

However visits to the physio have long meant painful massages and strengthening exercises on basic machines and tools like exercise bikes, resistance bands and weights. Now technology is looking to change the rehabilitation and training process, to improve the way physiotherapists treat and manage patient care and training.

Often what is taught with the physio needs to be followed up at home. Think of it like homework, what is taught inside the classroom needs to be repeated as individual learnings at home. But like homework, physio exercises are not always followed up and peoples lack of enthusiasm seems to stop as their appointment ends.

New Zealand entrepreneur Benjamin Dunn said that one of the biggest challenges with physiotherapy treatments is the compliance factor. Strength exercises associated with rehabilitation are hard and sometimes painful, while visible results can be slow and also difficult to measure. To help patients visibly see their results and also encourage training exercises to be completed, Dunn cofounded Swibo – exercise games for physiotherapy.

Swibo is a Wellington-based startup that provides physiotherapists with a balance training app and board to gamify the recovery and rehabilitation process of their patients.

Dunn and his team have created an app called Tilt that has a series of balance games to help patients recover from injury or eventrain for a high performance sport. A user’s smartphone is placed in a slot on a balance board and is connected to a game controller that measures movement, weight distribution and balance.

One of the Tilt games consist of a ball that the user needs to control and move around a particular world through a series of challenges. The game collects data and can measure the improvements and progress of a patient in real time.

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Dunn said that initially he found the strength of the balance board to be surprising.

“It has been shown to prevent injuries by up to 80 percent in athletes, which is huge, especially when a single ACL tear can take people out for months and can potentially ruin careers, entire professional careers. If it’s something simple like this for five to 15 minutes a day to prevent something catastrophic like that, there’s going to be a need for this.”

What Swibo does is put the entertainment factor into the balance board to increase adoption rates among users. The games are fun yet challenging to play and take the user’s mind off their pain, focusing all of their energy into completing each level.

Swibo also found that the physiotherapists were interested in the data concept and so Tilt built in balance tests to help physios measure their patient’s progression. Before Tilt, physios were measuring a patient’s balance by getting them to stand on one leg and were using a large amount of guess to work to determine whether the patient had improved or not.

“They’ll be the first to admit that was not a great solution, while [Tilt] gives objective data that can make that process obsolete and give them much more knowledge on what exercises to assign and what they need to focus on,” explained Dunn.

Swibo offers Tilt to physios in the form of a subscription model, with the basic package starting from $100 a month for ten patients. Physios have access to a range of games built for high performance athletes with race games, survival games and then for rehabilitation there are a range of more simple balance games and tests.

Currently Swibo is working with basketball, netball, rugby, hockey teams, as well as triathletes and swimmers. The app has been tested with local physiotherapy clinics and have been working with some unnamed professional sports teams. However, Dunn can confirm that Swibo is working with the New Zealand Artificial Limb Service to assess how the application can work with amputees.

Early next year Swibo will be opening up a seed funding round to raise NZ$300,000 to take the startup to the next stage. To propel growth the funding will be used to make some key hires and partnerships in the UK, US and Australia.

Dunn said that over the next 12 months Swibo will focus on further developing the graphic and digital design of the application. These improvements will also have a specific focus on working with people with disabilities to create a powerful tool for people who need to do these types of exercises everyday.

“These kinds of exercises are not just for a three or four week period while they are recovering, but for their whole lives. It’s more of a lifestyle for them, something they have to do regularly that is a chore, it’s a pain, and it really doesn’t need to be,” said Dunn.

“Trying to improve that is something that I’m really quite excited about. I did work with stroke rehabilitation before this, as part of my engineering degree, and I think that has made me much more interested in the role of technology and helping like that.”

Image: Swibo Team. Source: Supplied.