Many people who suffer from a stroke or spinal cord injury face a long road to recovery lasting months or years, with a goal of restoring functionality and returning to their community. This can be devastating, not only for the person injured but also for their family and friends. Swifter recovery, along with quantified feedback on progress, can now be achieved by using robotic exoskeletons for patients who are most likely able to gain ambulation function. These are ready to wear, battery-powered robots that are strapped over the users’ clothing, enabling individuals to achieve mobility, strength or endurance not otherwise possible.
Communicating recovery progress
For patients recovering from spinal cord injury or stroke, the rehabilitation process can be exhausting. In addition, daily progress can be so challenging that patients sometimes lose motivation. “Ekso Bionics’ unique solution, the Ekso GT, has been adapted specifically for recovery clinics to support both patients and clinicians,” explained Greg Davault, VP, Global Marketing at Ekso Bionics. “It can be used as early as inpatient care, when patients are first admitted to hospital and are stabilised.”
The Ekso GT is the only battery-powered robot to be FDA cleared for use in the treatment of individuals with hemiplegia due to stroke and individuals with spinal cord injuries from T3 to C7 level for AISA D and T4 to L5 for others, where an individual may lose function from the chest down but still retains use of their arms and much of their hands. “With the Ekso GT, therapists report users being able to walk for increasingly longer periods. The exoskeleton allows therapists to offer a more complete treatment,” said Davault.
For patients, being able to stand and move earlier is important in their rehabilitation, particularly for their state of mind, as it allows them to quickly see improvements, such as their endurance. However, Ekso Bionics was unable to provide easy access to data regarding patient progression.
The company’s EksoPulse feature, a cloud-based platform which obtains insights into an individual’s rehabilitation and displays measurable progress, motivates patients to continue treatment. Ekso Bionics wanted to provide real-time recovery data to users in every country it operates in. “We saw problems collecting data from devices abroad, especially in Europe,” said Davault. “A third of users had to collect data manually from the exoskeletons.”
The company faced several challenges when looking for the right service provider to help improve and speed up patients’ rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury and patients who have suffered a stroke. This included connecting all of its exoskeleton devices across more than 170 rehabilitation institutions, especially in North America, Africa and Europe where connectivity had been an issue. In addition, the company would need to gather data in real-time and without data loss to ensure that accurate patient information is available to therapists.
Connected rehabilitation monitoring
Ekso Bionics chose Vodafone as its partner to connect all exoskeletons globally, via the Vodafone Managed IoT Connectivity platform. EksoPulse and Vodafone’s service allows therapists to track patient progress, with filtering tools enabling them to quickly locate specific records and allowing them to adapt therapy sessions accordingly. “It is reassuring to know that the data is secure and adheres to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), protecting our patients’ privacy,” said Antoinette Domingo, a Physical Therapist at the San Diego State University School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences.
One of the biggest opportunities in measuring exoskeletons’ effectivity is quantifying what happens in physical therapy sessions. “The most common therapy intervention in these patient populations is gait training, a type of physical therapy that is intended to help improve patients’ ability to walk,” said Davault. “Ekso GT helps with this by providing the exact amount of power needed for the patient to complete the training.”
The platform documents the number of steps taken and time spent standing, with stroke patients having been registered walking up to 431 feet instead of the previous seven feet during initial gait training.
While the exoskeleton automatically collects variables for patients, Ekso Bionics can track device usage thanks to the Vodafone Managed IoT Connectivity platform. Having identified a clinic with a low user rate, Ekso Bionics helped train their therapists to use the Ekso GT more effectively. As a direct result of the training, that clinic is now a world leader in Ekso GT usage and recently acquired another device to meet demand. “Since working with Vodafone, the number of customers we need to contact for utilisation updates has been cut in half,” said Davault.
Vodafone’s reliable connectivity not only increases the amount of data collected, it has also helped Ekso Bionics save money and work more efficiently. “We saw a 30% year-on-year increase in utilisation of the robotic exoskeleton which aided patients’ recovery thanks to increased awareness of customer needs and usage habits,” added Davault.
Simplification, savings and quality of life
Having a single managed connectivity partner simplifies the manufacturing process enormously, with just a single globally roaming SIM per suit, regardless of where the device is being shipped. This also allows the company to expand globally without the need to source local connectivity partners as it moves into new markets. This enhances Ekso Bionics’ impact on the market and therefore helps those recovering from stroke and spinal cord injuries improve their quality of life.
Ekso Bionics chose the Vodafone Managed IoT Connectivity Platform to improve results for patients as well as internal processes. “Our partnership with Vodafone has been seamless and we created a single global solution just as smoothly as we had hoped,” said Davault.
Vodafone’s global coverage means it is the ideal partner to match the international requirements of Ekso Bionics and its exoskeleton solutions. Connectivity broadens the horizon for rehabilitation, which may no longer be limited to clinics and instead extended into patients’ homes. Ekso Bionics is working closely with Vodafone on both current and future projects following encouraging results from patients and physio-therapists as well as Ekso Bionics.
The bottom line
- The Ekso GT allows physio-therapists to mobilise patients earlier and more frequently, improving patients’ quality of life.
- Vodafone’s Managed IoT device platform enables SIM cards to be activated or deactivated, monitored for usage and set to provide data alerts.
- Partnering with Vodafone enables Ekso Bionics to collect real-time data from over 170 rehabilitation centres in North America, Africa and Europe.