The endless possibilities of data analytics in the rehabilitation sector

What was abundantly apparent at the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) conference was the hot topic of ‘big data’ and in particular, the opportunity for data analytics in examining large volumes of data to innovate and drive change in the rehabilitation sector. Whilst the extensive collection of data is not a new concept, the shift towards realising the potential of this data is both novel and exciting.

What is big data?

Big data is the term for a huge volume of data from a large number of sources that changes rapidly.

Big data in the medical rehabilitation sector

In a relatively short period of time, there has been a greater adoption and acceptance of technological solutions, against the background of a wider shift towards a patient-centred approach in the rehabilitation sector. Arguably the COVID-19 pandemic opened the door to greater opportunities to innovate and reinvent the delivery of rehabilitation services, promoting greater patient empowerment and self-efficacy.   

In the past few decades, there has been an explosion in the rise of electronic medical records producing an immense amount of data. More recently, innovations in telemedicine including remote patient monitoring, virtual reality content, 3D printing and robotic surgery are driving change. Today, an extensive amount of data is available which, if harnessed ethically and effectively, offers the potential for advancements in the quality, service and cost of rehabilitation treatment and care.

The ACRM conference profiled certain healthcare providers which are now utilising analytics to provide insight into raw data to improve both business and clinical outcomes, and to demonstrate the value of the services they provide.

Increasingly, it appears that technology companies are partnering with rehabilitation providers in order to assist patients and clinicians make better, data-driven decisions.

Examples of digital applications discussed at the conference included:

  • Hinge Health: the combination of wearable sensors, self-guided exercise therapy sessions based on real-time feedback and app allowing the user to set and track goals.
  • FocusMotion Health: orthopaedic recovery solutions to automatically assess and monitor pre and post operative patients based on AI.
  • Sway Medical: balance and cognitive testing on a mobile phone. 
  • Physiotec: physiotherapy home exercise platform with remote patient monitoring capabilities.  

To date, one of the key challenges in analysing raw data has been the lack of standardisation and harmonisation, especially in terms of historical data and consistency (for example, digitised medical records), making it difficult to compare data across different systems. For some rehabilitation providers, the solution has been the use of integrated analytics along with a drive for an increasingly data-driven and innovative culture.

Other challenges identified include concerns around privacy and security, incomplete records, resource and cost constraints.

A UK perspective

In the UK, highlighting the general shift towards harnessing data and technological solutions in the healthcare sector, on 29 June 2022 the Department of Health and Social Care published a policy paper titled ‘A plan for digital health and social care’. The plan sets out the lessons learned from the pandemic and technology pioneers across the world. It includes a raft of initiatives such as "£2 billion of funding to support electronic patient records to be in all NHS trusts, and help over 500,000 people to use digital tools to manage their long-term health conditions in their own homes."

The document also discusses how AI with its ability to analyse large data sets "can support professionals to make better informed decisions, especially in NHS screening services where the technology could speed up the diagnosis and treatment of conditions including cancer, stroke and eye disease".

Only a months later, on 28 November 2022, a report by the Acute Data Alignment Programme, a joint initiative between NHS Digital and the Private Healthcare Information Network, recommended that private providers should routinely share information with the NHS to ensure data collection is aligned. A public consultation on the proposal is due to take place in 2023.

A US perspective

Today in the US, there are approximately 17,000 new recorded instances of spinal cord injuries per year. In response to the growing number of individuals presenting with these injuries, the US currently employs a number of databases which store key information on patients being treated across the country.

Medical professionals in the US are currently reviewing the efforts of a shift towards data harmonization and standards for interoperable health information exchange.

Additionally, the US is currently exploring a meta-analytic approach to address nuances across data sets for knowledge synthesis. It is the hope that profiling individuals with spinal cord injuries will help to project future needs and allocate resources for health care and social supports.

Ultimately in the US there is a general recognition that the ability to speak the same language with regard to data elements will facilitate international collaborations and cumulative knowledge building. In turn, this will further advance our ability to apply such knowledge bases to a broader representative population in clinical care.


The explosion of portable and wearable technology is changing the rehabilitation sector which, in turn, challenges us to reflect on working practices for serious injury claims, in order to properly exploit technological opportunities for the benefit of both claimants and defendants. For compensators, big data analytics offers a future with better return on rehabilitation investment and more accurate claim valuation.

Looking ahead, big data analysis in the rehabilitation sector offers the opportunity to create an ecosystem that is not only predictive and patient-centred, but also cost effective. However, providers wishing to harness the power of big data will need to overcome a number of challenges, not least privacy and security concerns. Collaboration between healthcare providers, government, technology companies and other stakeholders such as compensators, will be key.

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