While technology has shaped the face of healthcare for centuries, we have seen rapid developments in the past decade. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments connects technology and physical therapy. When you hear the term “exoskeleton” you likely think of robots in some futuristic dystopia like the film I, Robot. Or maybe you think of military applications like the superhero Iron Man. However, you may not think of the healthcare applications. Yet, a company called Ekso Bionics may change that sooner than you think. Their exoskeleton technology is changing the way that patients recover from paralysis or stroke.
Developments in Technology and Physical Therapy
What is EksoGT?
If you’ve been following our blog, you may remember an older post discussing the EksoGT. EksoGT is an innovative technology that is providing alternative rehabilitation options for patients learning to walk again. According to Ekso Bionics, each year as many as 500,000 individuals experience spinal cord injuries and 15 million suffer a stroke. For many of these patients, walking becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. While physical therapists have been treating cases like this for years, the EksoGT may be a more effective type of treatment.
While the main goal of the exoskeleton is to help patients regain the ability to walk independently, there are a variety of settings that they can use. First, there is a control that can be operated by either the patient or the physical therapist. This control dictates the pace and gait of the assisted steps. Second, patients who are further in their recovery can simply shift their body weight to control the step assistance. The EksoGT is adaptive meaning that it learns how much help the user needs and provides more or less assistance accordingly.
Where is EksoGT used?
Currently, the EksoGT is in use in more than 200 clinical centers throughout the world. The FDA has approved it as a safe treatment method for paralysis and stroke recovery. While the technology has been in development since 2005, it has not yet become universally used for a few reasons. Although the medical applications of the EksoGT are clear, Ekso Bionics began developing exoskeletons for the military. This means that they did not transition in the healthcare technology industry until much more recently. In fact, the company only moved towards the medical applications in 2012. Additionally, the technology is still fairly cost-prohibitive. With each unit costing upwards of $100,000, the majority of clinics and patients are unable to afford this treatment option. However, as the technology is refined, hopefully, the price will fall making it more accessible.
Technology and Physical Therapy Looking Forward
As with any innovation, it will take time for public acceptance and use to catch up to the technology. Even though there is evidence to support the fact that technology like this can help patients recover more quickly, it is unlikely that we will see all stroke patients walking around in exoskeletons any time soon. Aside from the cost problem discussed above, one explanation for this is the additional training that physical therapists will need. Regardless of how useful technology can be in physical therapy, physical therapists will have to feel competent in using it before it is accepted. With something like the EksoGT, this will require intensive training on safe use. So, while technology and physical therapy are obviously going to be connected moving forward, it is important to remember that physical therapists will need to have the time and resources to keep up with the changes.
What do you think of developments like this in technology and physical therapy? Let us know in the comments below! Are you interesting in finding physical therapy jobs with the most innovative practices around the country? Take a look at the thousands of job openings available right here on AlliedTravelCareers.com!