Osteoarthritis (OA) is a prevalent chronic condition and a leading cause of disability in the UK. Physical activity (PA) is considered the most effective non-pharmacological treatment for reducing OA symptoms and enhancing quality of life, however, individuals with hip and knee OA have very low levels of activity. This inactivity is a key contributor to the high prevalence of comorbidities in this population. Although face-to-face OA rehabilitation programmes are effective, they are highly resource-intensive. Existing digital interventions provide resources for short term rehabilitation of a fixed structure, but lack flexibility, personalisation and social support which can empower patients to take control of their care. Hence, there is an opportunity to help individuals thrive by maintaining sustainable, physically active lifestyles that leverage social support, personalised information and PA recommendations.
To address this opportunity, we will combine expertise in human-computer interaction and self-tracking technologies (Dr Simon Jones), exercise for the rehabilitation of chronic disabling conditions (Prof. James Bilzon) and the development of innovative models of care for osteoarthritis (Prof. Nicola Walsh) to add intelligent personalisation to a smartphone app (KOALA – Knee OA Lifestyle App), developed within Dr Jones’s group. KOALA provides physical activity feedback, supports weight management and educates individuals with OA about exercise. Our research will involve patients and physiotherapists as co-creators in the development of iKOALA (Intelligent Knee OA Lifestyle App), enabling: (i) collection of data to monitor symptoms, patient activation, goals, attitudes to, and preferences for, physical activity; (ii) in-app social interactions and feedback mechanisms that support a strong sense of relatedness amongst OA patients; and (iii) intelligent physical activity recommendations, driven by models of expert knowledge and contextual data from users. Our collaboration brings together the necessary interdisciplinary expertise to develop a tool providing personalised, long-term management of OA in a resource efficient manner for the NHS. This will extend support beyond short term rehabilitation options currently offered and provide direct benefits to patients and associated indirect healthcare benefits.