New Technology Lets Physicians and Families Feel Your Tremor

Have you ever told a friend, family member or doctor, you don't understand, you just don't know how I feel!? That frustration may be at an end. A person with Parkinson's can now have his or her muscle symptoms transferred to someone else using Bluetooth technology, at least in the laboratory.

How it works

The SymPulse is a proof of concept that wirelessly records and transmits patient tremors. It uses an electromyogram to capture data from someone with Parkinson's disease (PD), a neurodegenerative motor disorder, and induce the same set of symptoms and muscle spasms, causing contractions and contortions that cannot be controlled, to people who do not have the disease. Using wireless Bluetooth technology that transmits to an armband worn by someone who does not have PD, it feels like intense electric stimulation, like that used in physical therapy treatments. The result is a simulated Parkinson's tremor.1,2

The technology has been in development in order to create and improve patient empathy and understanding by loved ones, caregivers and most especially, physicians and other medical professionals. The thought behind the device is that if others could experience the pain, discomfort, and difficulty performing everyday tasks, they would have a more compassionate attitude and approach when caring for someone who lives with these sensory difficulties.

Multiple studies, including from Harvard, suggest that patients have better outcomes when their physicians understand what they are going through.1 According to Dr. Helen Riess, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, clinical empathy can be taught and can raise patient ratings of the medical care they receive. Reports suggest that patients of empathetic physicians fare better and have lower complication rates. This highlights the importance of the role teaching empathy should play when training physicians and evaluating clinical competence.3

Klick Labs, a digital innovation lab, part of Klick Health, a Toronto based life science company, created SymPulse. The company generally seeks to use new technology in creative practical ways. Klick's intent is to meld the experience and expertise of engineers, data and behavioral scientists, medical experts and app developers.3 There are new technologies released every day that can affect so much of the way we live.

Medical empathy

Yan Fossat, a VP at Klick Labs, has described technology-enabled symptom transference as tele-empathy.3 Empathy isn't pity. It's the ability to truly feel another person's situation, and to communicate a sense of understanding and concern.2 Empathy is an awareness, one that can be taught.

Technology as another diagnostic tool

SymPulse technology also has a future as a diagnostic tool. For those who live far away from a neurologist or other movement disorder diagnosticians, a phone call or a video can be helpful but not always definitive. Since there is not yet a single diagnostic tool or test to determine if someone has Parkinson's disease, being able to replicate the physical symptoms in another person using data transmission is potentially groundbreaking. Initiating a Parkinson's tremor in a non-Parkinson's person using data over the internet would allow physicians and physical therapists and others on a medical team to experience the symptoms and use clinical expertise to analyze movement patterns, assess challenges and design therapy programs to improve movement and motor tasks for daily activities.3 This could be a new frontier in telemedicine, expanding beyond Parkinson's and other movement disorders to other diseases in the future.

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