Rehabilitation Medicine is Changing: Use Tech to Keep Up

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Clinical and Scientific Affairs

The needs of patients are continually evolving just as the aging population continues to grow. Advancements in neurological rehabilitation help top facilities keep the best talent and optimize outcomes in the face of increasing stroke events.

A delicate balance

For neurorehabilitation therapy, there is a delicate balance between available resources and their ever-increasing demand. As demographics change and the global population ages, the healthcare system faces an even heavier economic burden. Experts estimate that stroke rates in Europe will increase by 30% by the year 20501. Improved acute care translates to a growing need for rehab. Limited time with a therapist and a shrinking work force translates to a significant gap in rehabilitation needs versus the availability of care.

A growing senior population

It is a well-known fact that in the coming years, the majority of the world’s population will be advanced in age.2 Many aging individuals will experience health complications such as neurological or cardiovascular diseases that require rehabilitative care.3 As acute medical care and survival rates improve, so does the urgent need for rehabilitation. If current rehabilitation practices do not change, hospitals and other medical facilities will likely struggle to accommodate their patients.

Limited Therapist Time

Reports show that even in top European rehab facilities, only a few hours a day are devoted to hands-on care.4 While intensity and repetition have been shown to produce the best clinical outcomes in neurological or physical rehab programs, the majority of a patient’s time in the hospital is spent idle. To maximize therapy time, a change in how rehabilitation is administered would likely benefit patients and providers tremendously. One such change includes technology-assisted training.

Emerging Trends in Biotech

Robotic rehabilitation has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective than conventional care5,6. In addition to facilitating more intense and thorough rehab for patients, this technology confers benefits such as:

  • Empowerment – by giving real-time feedback and promoting autonomy, technology helps patients heal themselves. The internet has also led to increased patient knowledge — a significant boon when handled appropriately by health care professionals.
  • Telemedicine – patients can connect to the best doctors through remote care, allowing them to heal from home. National healthcare systems have successfully reduced the length of inpatient rehabilitation via alternatives like telerehabilitation so that patients can continue their training after discharge.
  • Gamification – increases patient engagement in rehab practice through play. Not only for pediatric patients, games and virtual reality can help older patients remain motivated to complete rehab programs.
  • Body sensors – provide real-time, accurate and digital measurements for feedback and optimal care. Incorporating body sensors, virtual reality and gamification can provide an immersive therapy experience with digital precision.
  • Exoskeletons and prosthetics – enable movement assistance that stabilizes patients and helps them to walk and to complete daily life activities when they would never have been able to achieve this before.

As rehabilitation facilities incorporate new technologies, patient care will become more efficient. Technology enables hospitals to better meet the needs of a growing senior population while preventing therapist burnout in therapists — ultimately making world-class care a reality.

References:

1 Norrving B, Barrick J, Davalos A, et al. Action Plan for Stroke in Europe 2018-2030. Eur Stroke J. 2018;3(4):309–336. doi:10.1177/2396987318808719
2 Beard JR, Officer A, de Carvalho IA, et al. The World report on ageing and health: a policy framework for healthy ageing. Lancet. 2016;387(10033):2145–2154. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00516-4
3 Béjot Y, Bailly H, Graber M, Garnier L, Laville A, Dubourget L, Mielle N, Chevalier C, Durier J, Giroud M. Impact of the Ageing Population on the Burden of Stroke: The Dijon Stroke Registry. Neuroepidemiology. 2019;52(1-2):78-85. doi: 10.1159/000492820. Epub 2019 Jan 2. PubMed PMID: 30602168.
4 De Wit L, Putman K, Dejaeger E, Baert I, Berman P, Bogaerts K, Brinkmann N, Connell L, Feys H, Jenni W, Kaske C, Lesaffre E, Leys M, Lincoln N, Louckx F, Schuback B, Schupp W, Smith B, De Weerdt W. Use of time by stroke patients: a comparison of four European rehabilitation centers. Stroke. 2005 Sep;36(9):1977-83. doi: 10.1161/01.STR.0000177871.59003.e3. Epub 2005 Aug 4. PubMed PMID: 16081860.
5 Mehrholz, J., S. Thomas, C. Werner, J. Kugler, M. Pohl and B. Elsner (2017). “Electromechanical-Assisted Training for Walking after Stroke (Update).” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 5: Cd006185.
6 Mehrholz, J., M. Pohl, T. Platz, J. Kugler and B. Elsner (2018). “Electromechanical and robot-assisted arm training for improving activities of daily living, arm function, and arm muscle strength after stroke.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 9: CD006876.

Originally published on 6.3.2020

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