Innovative technologies are being introduced into physical therapy with the goal of improving outcomes, patient compliance and safety as well as increasing clinic efficiency. Well-structured randomized clinical trials are currently ongoing to test these innovative technologies and validate them.
Participants participating in focus groups provided insight into a range of factors that they perceive are driving technology adoption.
Wearable Robots and Exosuits
Fleming MedLab has made strides toward making wearable robots more user friendly for patients, by developing soft, flexible wearables that look and feel like clothing, but use innovative textiles to interface with the body unobtrusively and provide support without being cumbersome or heavy. Furthermore, they’re lighter and cheaper than rigid exoskeletons such as Ekso suit or ReWalk exoskeleton designed specifically for spinal cord injury patients.
Other startups are providing more low-profile robotic systems like Pablo’s upper extremity system for hand, arm, shoulder, and trunk rehabilitation and the TYMO balance board that facilitates postural control training, along with data-driven coaching to keep patients on their rehab programs.
Though still relatively rare, powered exosuits such as the ReWalk have already proved beneficial to some with spinal cord injuries by helping them stand and walk again. With further advancements coming soon, more disabled and elderly patients as well as fire-fighters, EMS personnel, factory workers, loggers, and miners could potentially benefit from job-assist exoskeletons–with healthcare coverage covering any costs involved.
Physical Therapists (PTs) now have access to innovative tools like robotic exo suits and electronic sensor skins that make exercises more fun, monitor movement in real time, and make rehabilitation data-driven.
Epidermal wearable sensors can noninvasively track movement and physiological data in real time, providing remote physiotherapy. One system designed to detect elbow stress also known as Tommy John surgery offers this service.
The device notifies doctors when there is significant damage and provides guidance regarding treatment options. Furthermore, it can prevent falls – the primary source of unintentional injuries among adults aged over 75 – by sending alerts when damage has been sustained.
Multiple companies are working to develop systems to assist patients overcome obstacles to regaining mobility, such as ReWalk for people with spinal cord injuries who want to walk using motors at the hip and knee, with subtle gravity sensors providing weight distribution adjustments.
Immersive technologies present an unprecedented opportunity to experience different worlds, cultures, and ideas without leaving home. Additionally, immersive technologies create an interactive learning experience and can even help those with disabilities develop new skills without leaving their homes.
Immersive technologies include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality. VR immerses learners in a fully simulated environment while AR adds digital content to real-time physical environments. Mixed reality is the latest development, merging real world elements with digital ones to make it hard to differentiate where reality ends and virtual begins.
Businesses can take advantage of immersive technologies for worker training, product design inspiration and collaboration across offices – as well as decision-making ease. Research shows that immersive tech increases engagement, motivation and academic performance – potentially cutting the costs associated with learning by decreasing employee time spent training, practicing or making mistakes.
Stakeholders identified digital rehabilitation trends including gamification, VR/AR apps for smartphones and digital and mobile apps for both tablets and PCs, motion capture/video biofeedback as current trends in this space. Apps, web-based programs and videoconference systems present an opportunity to use DR as either an adjunct or replacement to face-to-face therapy; however, for effective home use of such solutions such as cost coverage by health insurance policies, client engagement strategies, as well as access to technical equipment are necessary conditions of successful DR use at home.
An increasing demand for remote therapy is expanding traditional rehabilitation’s horizons. Startups are providing solutions that allow a more individualized and effective approach, from rehabilitation robotics and telerehabilitation to augmented reality phototherapy and electrotherapy treatments. Such innovations could speed recovery times for patients while simultaneously improving adherence rates and decreasing healthcare costs; however they will require well-structured randomized studies for clinical decision making that ensure safe implementation both inside clinics as well as client homes.