Improving healthcare with technology
From pre-programmed software to intention detection application, soft robotic medical technologies have it all to become the future of rehabilitation for patients with neurological disorders.
by Jane Wang
In the past decade, the advent of internet and stark evolution of technology has deeply impacted various sectors in most parts of the world. One of the areas that has witnessed a drastic and progressive change is the healthcare industry. Today, the world is trending towards robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and it would be fair to say that robotic medical technologies are the next big thing in the healthcare industry. The latest stem of robotic medical tech that is creating a buzz in the healthcare industry is the soft robotic technology. It has a wide scope and holds the potential to transform healthcare and medicine.
Professor Jonathan Rossiter of University of Bristol says, “We are on the cusp of a robotics revolution in which the boundaries between artificial intelligence and biology are blurring.”
Asia-Pacific countries - Drivers of robotic revolution in healthcare
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region seems to be the central crux of this shift. According to a report published by Business Wire in April 2018, the healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific (APAC) is expected to grow at over 11 percent in 2018 alone, making it one of the fastest growing regions in the world. The global healthcare economy has an average annual growth rate of less than 5 percent. Statistics predict the APAC healthcare market to grow and reach 517 billion dollars by the end of 2018.
Experts believe that this positive growth is fuelled by three major factors – innovative healthcare access programs, increasing adoption of technology, and delivery of care outside traditional hospital settings. Another aspect that has made the APAC region a hotspot for smart healthcare is the growing population, creating demand, leading to greater healthcare awareness among the masses.
Medical technologies - Benefits and demands
Soft robotic medical technologies are the new beacon of hope, on which the “smart healthcare” revolution is thriving. Soft robotics can reshape the future of healthcare in various ways, including:
- reducing burden for the whole healthcare system by managing the manpower challenge
- enabling patients receive care faster without compromising quality
- offering better precision and accuracy by reducing human errors
- revamping the rehabilitation sector for good
With the development of AI, machine learning and hardware technologies, robotics can be more reliable and intelligent in supporting clinicians in various tasks with minimal supervision.
However, to achieve these goals, medical robotics companies need to invest heavily in research, talents and the implementation of quality system to ensure the safety and efficacy of the devices. Moreover, it cannot be denied that digitalisation has not only enhanced healthcare systems but has also created more awareness among medicine consumers - they know what they want and from whom. To keep up with the ever-evolving consumer needs and wants, industries need to be ever-innovating and completely invested in rigorous research.
Road to smart rehabilitation
The e-tide has not only transformed ways in which patients are treated but is also making the much-needed far-reaching developments in medical rehabilitation. Neurological diseases, such as brain damage, seizures, stroke etc., cause cognitive and motor impairments.
Stroke is among the most common reason for adult-onset disability across the world. According to a report published in the US National Library of Medicine, over one billion people are affected by neurological disorders worldwide. The road to recovery is extremely difficult for these patients, creating an emergence of novel neurorehabilitative treatments.
Experts believe that soft robotics can prove to be a real game changer in the rehab industry. The rise in revenue share for rehabilitation products in the soft robotics market in APAC region assures of its potential and demand.
Real world impact of soft robotics - EsoGlove
One soft robotic medical device that promises to revamp the road to rehabilitation for patients of neurological disorders like stroke is EsoGlove developed by Singapore-based medical device company, Roceso Technologies. EsoGlove is basically a soft-robotic hand rehabilitation system that helps patients gain self-reliance in the most natural and efficient ways. The EsoGlove system consists of three major parts -
- a glove with soft-robotic actuators (the actuators are activated based on air pressure)
- a pump-valve control system with touch panel for operations
Modes of operations and intention detection
EsoGlove when operated in passive mobilisation mode allows high intensity and repetitive finger joint mobilisation exercises, including cyclic flexion and extension or individual finger mobilisation. It prevents the development of spasticity and edema.
When operated in the functional task-specific training mode, EsoGlove allows the training of important tasks such as power grip and key pinch that are needed for daily activities. All exercises can be pre-programmed using the software system in this mode.
One of the additional features of this robotic rehab system is the intention detection function. This application provides patients with additional help when they intend or want to start the pre-selected functional task training. The intention detection feature has been validated by various neurologists, rehab doctors and occupational therapists to be critical in creating neuroplasticity.
Advantages of new-age soft-robotic rehab
Before the soft-robotics rehab came into play, most hand rehabilitation devices were made up of rigid components. These devices had several limitations, including:
- limited range of motions/exercises
- long setup time (10 to 25 minutes)
- high price
Soft robotic technologies have helped create a device which has a host of advantages over these methods. EsoGlove has a plethora of advantages over traditional methods. These gloves are:
- supporting both passive and active exercises including functional training
- developed with short setup time (less than 3 minutes)
- portable (weighing less than 300 grams)
- more affordable and cost effective
With all these advantages, soft robotics technology will enable home therapy and improve rehabilitation tremendously. Roceso Technologies is working on the development of more devices based on soft robotics that can help expedite the rehab process for patients. In addition to developing devices for various body parts to improve patient mobility, they are focusing on the development of advanced features like brain computer interface, sensing/IoT and gamification.
Overcoming challenges for a better future
Improving healthcare with technology is a win-win situation for both doctors and patients. However, achieving an ideal scenario is not easy. Reports and data reveal that APAC is driving this ambitious transformation but on the other hand, the industry players realise some obstacles.
One prime challenge is in finding suitable talents. In the past two decades, the engineering sector has been losing top talents to banking, oil & gas and other industries. This is caused partially by the loopholes in the economic structure and lack of focus on corporate innovation. However, countries in the APAC region are starting to support start-ups and slowly improvements in terms of talent attraction and acquisition can be observed. Another challenge is the lack of a strong tech start-up ecosystem, and this includes both partners and funding. In Singapore, it can take up to a year to finish a prototype design. The APAC region has enough capital potential to strategise and overcome this obstacle.
Technology, especially soft robotics can prove to be a 21st century medical miracle that can lead to a better and healthier life. Investors, healthcare institutions, researchers and manufacturers need to work hand-in-hand to make the best of this boon.
"Medical robotics companies need to invest heavily in research, talents and the implementation of quality system to ensure the safety and efficacy of these devices."
Jane Wang is the CEO and co-founder of Roceso Technologies