The University of the Highlands and Islands and NHS Highland are planning a new project to discover if a digital treatment can help patients on the waiting list for knee and hip operations.
The study will see 100 patients from across the Highlands use Joint Academy, a digital treatment app developed by a Swedish digital health company, over a six-month period.
The app connects patients with a registered physiotherapist, provides information about chronic joint pain, and encourages users to undertake tailored exercises five minutes a day to help reduce pain and restore movement.
It comes as a recent study by the University of Nottingham found that patients using the app reduced their pain by 41% after just six weeks, whereas the figure for those receiving face-to-face care was just 6%.
The initiative would be the first time Joint Academy has been trialled in Scotland.
Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands, led by Professor Trish Gorely, will aim to evaluate how likely patients are to sign up for the programme, if they stay engaged throughout, and if they feel the treatment helped their condition.
Previous studies found that some patients going through the treatment decided they no longer needed surgery. Trials also showed reductions in post-operation recovery times.
Speaking about the project, Professor Gorely said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with NHS Highland and Joint Academy to trial this innovative treatment.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that many operations have been delayed. And this initiative could help to provide a possible solution for patients who are experiencing pain and mobility issues.”
Asif Dewan, UK managing director at Joint Academy, added: “Making a significant dent in the hospital waiting lists will require public-private partnerships to a greater extent and we’re thrilled to now be able to offer our treatment to NHS patients.
“Every month, hundreds of patients change their mind about having surgery while they’re in our treatment. And this is a win, not just for the individual patient, but for the healthcare system at large.
“Our hope is that this trial will help the participating patients and lead to more conversations with the NHS about how we can offer the treatment to everyone in the UK who needs it.”
And, commenting on the study, James Beastall, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at NHS Highland, said: “As a result of the pandemic there are large numbers of people who are waiting patiently in Highland for surgery to reduce the pain they have from their arthritic joints.
“Some of these patients have now been waiting for two years and even a short period of exercise every day can improve physical and mental wellbeing so we are very excited about the opportunity to work with Joint Academy in this fascinating project and hope that it can do something to ease suffering for some of our patients.”
The study will be supported with funding given to the university through the Inverness and Highlands City Region Deal.
The university was also awarded £9m from the UK Government for life sciences projects.