Using low-cost sensing to support self-management in spinal injuries

UMSI Associate Professor Mark Newman is working to develop a cloud-based mobile system, the Spinal Cord Injury Living and Learning System (SCILLS), to help people with spinal cord injuries or diseases to acquire self-management skills through a virtual coaching program managed by a clinician.

This project will focus on developing SCILLS’ ContextEngine component, which monitors information provided by the SCILLS mobile platform’s sensors in order to determine relevant aspect of user context, such as location, movement, social interaction, and biometrics.

Start date: 4/1/2015
End date: 3/31/2016

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UMSI Associate Professor Mark Newman is developing the Spinal Cord Injury Living and Learning System (SCILLS) along with Mark Ackerman, UMSI Professor of Information and George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, and U-M Health System Associate Professor Michelle Meade. 

SCILLS is designed to be a cloud-based mobile system for helping people with spinal cord injuries or disease acquire self-management skills through a virtual coaching program managed by a clinician. Through state-of-the-art mobile and web-based technology, SCILLS will be able to provide tailorable and adaptive self-management and patient education programs that are effective, appropriate, and cost efficient. 

The project is part of U-M’s Technology Increasing Knowledge: Technology Optimizing Choice Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (TIKTOC RERC), an interdisciplinary collaboration of clinicians and researchers from the Medical School, the College of Engineering, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Information, and the School of Public Health. TIKTOC RERC has been funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Management of a spinal cord injury is complex and highly individualized process, requiring each patient to learn a number of self-management skills, including physical self-care, exercise, medication adherence, healthy eating, and stress management. Mastering such a wide range of skills scan be challenging for patients after they leave the care setting and have less access to professional support

The SCILLS system will seek to address these challenges via its three main components: PCoach (the Patient Coach), a mobile app that provides reminders and information to patients and allows them to self-monitor and track progress; CBuilder (the Clinician’s Builder), a web-based application that allows clinicians to create and edit self-management plans, monitor patient progress and problems, and organize collections of information resources; and the SCILLS Server, a cloud-based server that provides data storage and coordinates data exchange between PCoach and CBuilder. 

PCoach will be designed to run on iOS and Android tablet and smartphone platforms. The app will allow patients to view a schedule of recommended activities, review information about their health conditions and recommended treatments, enter self-monitoring reports, and receive reminders for incomplete actions. 

The work associated with this grant will further develop PCoach’s ContextEngine component, which monitors contextual information provided by the mobile platform’s sensors to determine relevant aspects of user context, such as location, movement, social interaction, and biometrics. ContextEngine is intended to allow a patient’s management plan to adapt itself to the moment-to-moment conditions a patient experiences.

The overarching design of SCILLS is derived from an analysis of existing spinal cord injury treatment strategies and is based on the ideas that patients and clinical staff should be partners in the design and implementation of care, and that self-management plans should react to changes in the patient’s condition, skill development and life situation.

SCILLS is designed to take full advantage of contemporary mobile platforms’ computing and sensing power to simplify self-monitoring and to keep patients informed about their condition and rationale for their self-management plan in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them.


Using Low-Cost Sensing to Support Self-Management: An Initial Study, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation: $100,000


The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is a private organization that supports research that seeks to understand the biological basis for recovery of function after spinal cord injuries. The Foundation also supports clinical research to develop new treatments and create innovative rehabilitation programs for people living with spinal cord injuries throughout the United States and Canada.