While walking the halls of CES Las Vegas 2015, NotImpossibleNow caught up with Frank Menzler, the U.S. executive vice president of Swiss-based Hocoma Inc. about Valedo - their wearable sensor + video-game solution for lowering lower back pain.
NIN: Valedo is already on sale?
Frank: Valedo is available already in the US. You can go through our online shop at ValedoTherapy.com. The price, shipping is included, is $359, the equivalent of about 10 co-payments you do with a physical therapist.
Who came up with the idea for this particular unit?
Frank: Hocoma is a global market leader in neural rehabilitation, we do a lot for spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, so we know rehabilitation, and we know lower back pain is a huge issue in the United States and around the globe. In order to do something for your back, you have to work with those deep muscles - you have to stabilize the core, therefore you have to exercise.
Normally, exercise is boring, so we try to find a good way of making exercise fun to motivate you to do it but also to do it in the most safe way. That's why we developed this set of sensors: we put one on your collarbone, the other one on your lower back, and they connect via Bluetooth to your iPad. On your iPad you have an app, and on the app there are 45 therapeutic exercises, they are the same exercises you would do with your physical therapist for lower back pain.
Now, the game guides you how to isolate muscles correctly. It's fun, there's high scores involved, but equally important, the system gives you also the feedback if you do the movements incorrectly. Because that is what a PT would do, this is what somebody would do who supervises you. Because there's no supervision at home, the system needs to do it.
It's an FDA listed medical device and there's also full recording function in there which tells you in great detail how you improve over time. You can easily send that report as a PDF via e-mail to your physician, to your physical therapist.
How's the reception been. Are people using it already?
Frank: Yes, they're using it already. We have very good reviews. We have physical therapists who use it also with their patients for movement awareness. They also are able to resell that to their patients but you can also, of course, buy it directly.
We just launched in November , so there's still a lot of work to do. There's not so much to do with the physical therapists because they understand it, it had to be developed with movement scientists and physical therapists. Of course, now we need to educate the consumers because, especially at a show like this year, I see a lot of tracking devices. They see a lot of posture devices but they need to understand that the only thing which really helps long-term is to redevelop those muscles. The bad news is that means exercise.
If you go and work cardio on the treadmill in the gym, you have to work the treadmill not only once a month but on a continuous basis and, with the muscles, it's the same. The only thing which we can do is to make it really as convenient and fun as possible to exercise your muscles.
What's the best story you've heard from someone using Valedo already?
Frank: Well, the best stories are, of course, the expert stories, it's the physical therapists who see it with their patients. We have the first stories coming in but, again, we are not promoting anything new here, each of the 45 exercises we are doing here replicates exactly the same exercises which are the standard of care. If you believe in the standard of care, then this just a different environment and framework.
But, with Valedo, there will be different channels. We will work with wellness programs of employers, we will work with worker's comp, we will work with health insurance companies and hospitals, and there will be clinical trials. Certainly we hope to show a huge benefit for society and for the payers.
Is that something that, as a company, that's been interesting for you guys? That people are taking the therapies and other preventative measures and rehabilitation exercises into their homes?
Frank: It is certainly a trend for us, low back pain is only the start. The sensors include an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, which can measure a lot of things, it's just the software which, for now, is specific for low back pain. We will develop also the upper neck, we will develop shoulder exercises, fall prevention, balance, there's a lot more which will come, all following the same principle of gamification to make this interesting but always with a very serious background of rehabilitation and restoring of function.
Very cool. In terms of the gamification side of things, are you working with partners externally to integrate these sensors as controls for different games?
Frank: We don't have an STK so, for now, we develop our own games with partners. Fortunately we have a long track record, long experience with spinal cord and stroke patients, how we engage patients, how we guide them through games so they actually play a game without really thinking about working out.
On a personal level, if you had unlimited resources and unlimited personnel, what of the world's big issues or health situations would you try and cure or prevent or solve?
Frank: Well I mean we are not curing cancer here, we're doing muscle prevention but that would certainly be at the very top of the list as well,. We're doing one step at a time and I think low back pain is a huge socioeconomic issue in the United States and we work on that for now. That's where our expertise is.
For more about the movement to lessen lower back pain, check out Valedo's video: