Here’s the latest entrant in the Internet of Things in healthcare market

As virtual rehabilitation picks up, traditional orthopedics widget makers like Breg are foraying into at-home physical therapy using a sensor device and a companion mobile app.

The Breg Flex sensor device and mobile app for remote virtual rehabilitation

The Breg Flex sensor device and mobile app for remote virtual rehabilitation

Physical therapy is a big part of orthopedic care, and as the era of bundled payments take hold, albeit with a pause here and there, virtual rehab is poised to take off.

Traditional widget makers are sensing an opportunity in this trend. Take Breg, the sports medicine manufacturer and distributor based in Carlsbad, California.

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At the recently-concluded annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthpaedic Surgeons (AAOS), Breg executives were showing off a new sensor-device connected to a mobile app that can guide patients through their daily exercise routine following orthopedic surgery.

This is the first time the company has forayed into the digital health, Internet of Things space, confirmed Brad Lee, president and CEO, in a booth interview last week where demos of the Breg Flex system were being presented. Lee said the impetus for the product dates back seven years ago when the company underwent a strategic shift.

“Rather than focusing on the widgets we provide to an orthopedic caregiver, [we wanted to] focus on managing the pain points in their world in the orthopedic episode,” Lee said.

As providers are moving to a value-based system in healthcare, accelerated by alternative payment models especially in joint replacement, hospitals have scrambled to understand where you can take costs out. Everyone has landed squarely on post-acute care — once the joint replacement procedure is complete. One item on the cost chopping block is physical therapy.

“We are actively moving toward online physical therapy programs and our goal is to eliminate physical therapy for hips, only use in knees when we need it …,” said Richard Iorio, a hip and knee surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, at a panel discussion on orthopedic bundled payments last week at AAOS.

And that’s exactly where Breg’s Flex system fits in.

“This product Flex was developed for the post-surgical rehabilitation segment of the episode.”

Here’s what the product incorporates: A chargeable Bluetooth wireless sensor, worn by patients to track progress with prescribed PT exercises with a companion mobile app.

The sensor and app work in concert to record range-of-motion that is key to better clinical outcomes. The data is also shared in real time with providers such that clinicians can tweak exercise protocols. The interactive patient app has a virtual avatar that guides patients through exercises. The system can also collect patient-reported outcomes that are key to getting reimbursed for certain orthopedic procedures such as joint replacement under bundled care programs.

Lee explained that Breg Flex also works with the electronic medical record of a practice or a hospital.

“The entire recording of the rehabilitation episode is now documented in the patient’s history seamlessly,” he added.

Breg Flex is FDA-exempt because it simply monitors and tracks and does not offer clinical decision support.

In that context, the device is different from other virtual rehab programs on the market such as Reflexion Health’s Vera virtual rehab program. The San Diego-based company uses the Microsoft Kinect gaming console and the Vera avatar to guide patients through their at-home exercise regimen. The system received FDA clearance in 2015.

But like Breg, other companies also seem to feel that FDA clearance to use a digital product for remote physical therapy is not needed. Zimmer-Biomet, the Indiana company that holds the largest market share in hip and knee replacements acquired the RespondWell virtual rehab program that is also not FDA-cleared.

Aside from regulatory clearance that distinguishes companies in the field, another characteristic serves as a point of distinction. Companies like Jintronics and Reflexion Health use the Kinect platform thereby tying joint replacement patients to a console or a TV to do their daily rehab. All Breg Flex needs is a cell phone, or tablet and a sensor-device.

“We are measuring range of motion in the rehab process with a high degree of accuracy in a remote location that doesn’t require to be tethered to any other technology except the sensors on your knee and a phone, which is not a huge burden,” Lee said.

In other words, patients can be out and about, and still get their rehab done.

While that may be a distinguishing factor, the virtual rehab space is getting crowded with several companies vying to win. But Breg’s CEO shrugged it off.

“There is a huge market and there will be a lot of good players in the space,” he said.

Photo: Breg Inc.