Dr. Shivayogi V Hiremath is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia. He directs the Personal Health Informatics and Rehabilitation Engineering Laboratory (PHIRE) lab, which focuses on studying health patterns and functional outcomes of individuals with disability in the community. Specifically the research focuses on: 1) studying health and physical activity patterns of people with disabilities in the community through wearable sensors and smartphone-based technologies, and 2) developing and applying novel physical activity monitoring and feedback technology, which when combined with behavioral programs would improve the health and physical activity of people with disabilities.
Note: You should consult with your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Hiremath and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OnlinePhysicalTherapyPrograms.com
How did you become interested in researching physical activity patterns in those with disabilities?
During my graduate studies, I evaluated the performance of three off-the-shelf physical activity monitors in individuals with spinal cord injury who used manual wheelchairs for mobility. Our research indicated that commercial physical activity monitors did not accurately capture the physical activities performed by individuals with spinal cord injury. This study and similar research by other groups led us to develop and evaluate a mobile health (mHealth) based physical activity monitor system for individuals with spinal cord injury. In recent years, my collaborators and I have used the mHealth-based system to track physical activity patterns of individuals with spinal cord injury and provide them with just-in-time (or in the moment) physical activity interventions in the community.
What are some of the challenges to gaining an understanding of someone’s activity level when they have a disability, and how do these challenges impact people’s abilities to lead healthy lives?
Some of the challenges to gaining an understanding of an individual with disability’s activity level include varied biomechanical patterns due to motor functional impairments or use of assistive technology for mobility. Due to these biomechanical variations, many of the activity monitors developed for the general population may under or overestimate physical activity levels in individuals with disability. Availability of information about how much physical activity someone does on a regular basis can help them plan and accomplish them in the community.
How has technology expanded our ability to overcome these challenges?
Availability of mHealth technologies such as smartwatches and smartphones, that are accessible to individuals with disability, have a potential to transform the way people track their physical activity and share that information with their friends or family members. Sharing of physical activity information on technology-based platforms can help educate the general population about the types of physical activities individuals with disability can perform using their assistive technology. Furthermore, individuals with and without disabilities may participate in physical activity challenges that may lead to healthier lifestyles in the community.
You have worked on multiple types of these technologies, what has inspired the specific projects you have worked on?
User needs have inspired many of our research projects. We survey individuals with disabilities about their health and physical activity needs; and then collaboratively work with them to develop and test assistive technologies that address their needs in the community.
How do you make sure that these technologies are accessible to those that need them?
In recent years, we have used consumer-based devices such as smartwatches and bike odometers – which form modular components of our physical activity intervention system – to assist individuals with disability. In addition, we have made the smartphone application available to other researchers and developers through software sharing websites such as GitHub. We believe that making this information available to others will reduce the time for technology transfer and make them accessible to those who need them the most.
What aspect of your research are you most proud of?
Research by our group, my mentors, and others in the field of Rehabilitation Sciences has influenced technology companies such as Apple to track physical activities in individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility. Specifically, we have made our algorithms available to the public to help increase the pace of technology translation. Having accessible technologies can help individuals with disabilities be more aware of their physical activity levels and improve their daily physical activity.
What advice do you have for those interested in a career in physical therapy?
For prospective students who are interested in a career in physical therapy, my advice would be to work with individuals with disabilities to identify their health and wellness needs. I recommend that the students work collaboratively with the client and other healthcare professionals to address their needs. Specific to our research, I suggest assisting individuals with disabilities in improving their function and mobility, reducing barriers associated with engaging in physical activity, and improving overall health and wellness which may prevent secondary health conditions.