Background: Digitally enabled rehabilitation may lead to better outcomes but has not been tested in large pragmatic trials. We aimed to evaluate a tailored prescription of affordable digital devices in addition to usual care for people with mobility limitations admitted to aged care and neurological rehabilitation.
Methods and findings: We conducted a pragmatic, outcome-assessor-blinded, parallel-group randomised trial in 3 Australian hospitals in Sydney and Adelaide recruiting adults 18 to 101 years old with mobility limitations undertaking aged care and neurological inpatient rehabilitation. Both the intervention and control groups received usual multidisciplinary inpatient and post-hospital rehabilitation care as determined by the treating rehabilitation clinicians. In addition to usual care, the intervention group used devices to target mobility and physical activity problems, individually prescribed by a physiotherapist according to an intervention protocol, including virtual reality video games, activity monitors, and handheld computer devices for 6 months in hospital and at home. Co-primary outcomes were mobility (performance-based Short Physical Performance Battery [SPPB]; continuous version; range 0 to 3; higher score indicates better mobility) and upright time as a proxy measure of physical activity (proportion of the day upright measured with activPAL) at 6 months. The dataset was analysed using intention-to-treat principles. The trial was prospectively registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12614000936628). Between 22 September 2014 and 10 November 2016, 300 patients (mean age 74 years, SD 14; 50% female; 54% neurological condition causing activity limitation) were randomly assigned to intervention (n = 149) or control (n = 151) using a secure online database (REDCap) to achieve allocation concealment. Six-month assessments were completed by 258 participants (129 intervention, 129 control). Intervention participants received on average 12 (SD 11) supervised inpatient sessions using 4 (SD 1) different devices and 15 (SD 5) physiotherapy contacts supporting device use after hospital discharge. Changes in mobility scores were higher in the intervention group compared to the control group from baseline (SPPB [continuous, 0-3] mean [SD]: intervention group, 1.5 [0.7]; control group, 1.5 [0.8]) to 6 months (SPPB [continuous, 0-3] mean [SD]: intervention group, 2.3 [0.6]; control group, 2.1 [0.8]; mean between-group difference 0.2 points, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.3; p = 0.006). However, there was no evidence of a difference between groups for upright time at 6 months (mean [SD] proportion of the day spent upright at 6 months: intervention group, 18.2 [9.8]; control group, 18.4 [10.2]; mean between-group difference -0.2, 95% CI -2.7 to 2.3; p = 0.87). Scores were higher in the intervention group compared to the control group across most secondary mobility outcomes, but there was no evidence of a difference between groups for most other secondary outcomes including self-reported balance confidence and quality of life. No adverse events were reported in the intervention group. Thirteen participants died while in the trial (intervention group: 9; control group: 4) due to unrelated causes, and there was no evidence of a difference between groups in fall rates (unadjusted incidence rate ratio 1.19, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.83; p = 0.43). Study limitations include 15%-19% loss to follow-up at 6 months on the co-primary outcomes, as anticipated; the number of secondary outcome measures in our trial, which may increase the risk of a type I error; and potential low statistical power to demonstrate significant between-group differences on important secondary patient-reported outcomes.
Conclusions: In this study, we observed improved mobility in people with a wide range of health conditions making use of digitally enabled rehabilitation, whereas time spent upright was not impacted.
Trial registration: The trial was prospectively registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Register; ACTRN12614000936628.