Robotic Rehabilitation: A Revolution for Healthcare
From factory lines to retail store aisles, we hear — and see — the growing presence of robots in all facets of life. In the healthcare industry, the continued innovation of robotic systems has been nothing short of fascinating.
Walk into the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and you’ll meet numerous hospital robots named ‘Tug’. What ‘Tug’ does is deliver clean linens, drugs, and meals, as well as cart off dirty sheets and medical waste. It’s quite incredible.
Robots in the medical industry extend beyond hospital helpers, though. According to global research, the entire market for medical robots is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.1 percent from 2016 to 2021, reaching a total value of $12.8 billion.
As an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, I try to stay on top of tech trends for the better of the people I serve: senior residents of The Allure Group’s six facilities. We’ve noticed that robotics can be useful in many healthcare applications, from surgeries to telepresence. One area where there is perhaps the most potential is rehabilitation, especially for elderly patients.
Here’s why robotic rehabilitative systems will improve lives and be a revolution for healthcare:
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Surgical robots do seem to grab all the headlines. During a study in 2016, STAR, the soft-tissue autonomous robot, performed better than human surgeons at stitching together animal intestines.
The growing market for rehabilitative robotics
Indeed, the progress being made in robotic surgery is truly eye-opening. However, technological, legal, and ethical concerns must still be solved before we see fully autonomous robot surgeries on a mainstream level.
When it comes to rehabilitation robots, I believe they can make an impact right now — not just because the technology is ready, but also because the market demands the help of robotics.
First, while it’s common knowledge that the healthcare job sector is growing fast, it’s noteworthy that three out of the top 10 fastest growing positions are related to physical therapy, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Robots can certainly help alleviate any talent shortage and get people the services they desperately need.
Second, the increasing need for physical therapy roles is largely due to the growing aging population. As the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) notes, the number of seniors in the United States is expected to rise from 40 million to 80 million by 2050. This increases the demand for rehabilitative services for many reasons, including some of the following:
- The incidence of stroke increases rapidly as we age, doubling for every decade after age 55. There will be more help needed when it comes to rehabilitative services after a stroke.
- As many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease now, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. As the population ages, given that the time of onset for Parkinson’s disease is generally between 40 and 70 years old, it’s reasonable to believe the number of people living with the disease will increase, which necessitates rehabilitative services.
- Life expectancies are increasing. Since there will be a large elderly population, and people naturally grow weaker as they age, there will be a huge demand for physical therapy on seniors in order to prevent and recover from falls, joint problems, and more. Occupational therapy will be particularly crucial in helping seniors overcome physical limitations and regain their independence.
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Going forward for robotic rehabilitation
I’m an advocate for rehabilitation robotics being an integral part of every clinician’s toolbox, as this technology can deliver impactful restorative therapy for elderly patients. Now’s the time to implement it on a mass scale.
This is because rehabilitation robots are now not only capable of assisting with different sensorimotor functions, they can assess a patient’s ability to move and then tailor therapy exercises and movements.
During the recuperation process, these robots can help with everything from standing up and balancing to restoring speech and cognitive skills. Yes, it’s pretty amazing.
From virtual reality rehabilitation systems to anti-gravity treadmills, the technology is as cutting-edge as it is promising — not just for seniors, but anyone in need of cognitive or physical rehab, whether due to disease, disability, or injury. Since healthcare has expanded the average lifespan so dramatically, each innovation is a welcome addition that ensures less years spent suffering and more spent active and well.
Considering the current capabilities of rehabilitation robots, it’s also evident they have a place in restorative treatment — not as an assistant, but rather a key tool that generates better outcomes.
That’s because robotic rehabilitation systems can now guide patients through activities and exercises in an immersive and efficient manner. This technology also provides data-driven insights that can consistently enhance treatment effectiveness.
Going forward, it’s clear to me: Those rehab and nursing facilities that adopt rehabilitation robots sooner rather than later stand to benefit the most. Their patients will rehab more effectively and live happier healthier lives. In the end, that’s what’s most important.
— Joel Landau