When we think of a robotic exoskeleton, we may dive into our movie repertoire and think of films like Alien and Avatar. Exoskeletons are actually breaking ground throughout the healthcare industry, serving as a promising form of treatment for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.
These devices are helping patients relearn how to walk, lift, and go about their daily lives, and we’ll take a closer look as to what these systems entail and how they’re changing the face of medical care.
What is a robotic exoskeleton?
Robotic exoskeletons, sometimes referred to as exosuits, are essentially wearable robots that enhance the abilities of the person wearing them. Ekso Bionics, the creators of the Eksoskeleton, originally developed these hydraulic-powered suits for military use. The Eksoskeleton offered leg support and effectively acted as a backpack for human operators to carry heavy objects over a great distance at a higher speed. The Eksoskeleton has made strides since its initial models that seemed to still place a little too much stress on the operator’s muscles.
Upper body exosuits have found great use in the manufacturing sector to provide “super strength” and prevent workplace injuries. There is also the development of zero-gravity arms that help users to lift heavy devices and be less dependent on their own strength during construction work. The most recent strides are being seen in medical services. Lower body exosuits provide locomotive assistance and have become common medical equipment used by physical therapists to help patients relearn how to walk. These powered exoskeletons help users carry their own weight and start walking again.
Who can this help?
One of the main reasons to work in the healthcare field is the fulfilling feeling you get when you know that you’re helping others. This rings true for those helping patients recovering from spinal cord injuries, or SCIs. Healthcare practitioners have found strides in patients using these robotic exoskeletons, who are recovering from some form of paralysis.
These robotic suits support upright posture and impact patients’ lives with each step, helping them to regain their natural gait. These exosuits also offer postural trunk support to the knee, hip, and ankle. This allows an operator to work through extended physical therapy sessions without fatigue. It also allows a rehab specialist to determine when a patient is leaning through sensors that automatically detect when their gait is starting to wain.
In recent years, these bionic suits are now being used to help stroke victims in their recovery, as well as those with acquired brain injuries. A wearable exoskeleton is seen as a light at the end of the tunnel towards not having to rely on medical equipment, like wheelchairs, or the assistance of an at-home health aide or family members.
Are these covered by health insurance?
While the Eksoskeleton, or other robotic units, provide promise for those with spinal cord injuries, Ekso therapy is still a new development that some insurers may have questions regarding. However, equipment for those with limited mobility is among the common medical devices covered under health insurance.
In the case of Medicare, average medical equipment like wheelchairs and crutches are covered. However, exoskeletons could be presented as a viable option for people with limited physical capabilities. Medicare opens the gates for coverage if a piece of equipment is able to withstand repeated use for medical purposes. Deductibles may apply to physical therapists who utilize this form of treatment to help patients. There could be some out-of-pocket expenses to look into.
It’s important to make sure these therapists and other members of your medical team are enrolled in Medicare before submitting the claim. The same goes in the case of a private health insurance company, which may look into the supplier of this treatment to see if this innovation is covered under their policies.