Singapore programme to assess use of exoskeletons in rehabilitation care

Led by Temasek Foundation and Trailblazer Foundation, the initiative will evaluate the use and scalability of exoskeletons in rehabilitation care across various healthcare institutions including a local hospital, nursing home, and stroke support group.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

A new pilot in Singapore will assess the use and scalability of exoskeletons in rehabilitation care across various healthcare institutions, including a hospital, nursing home, and stroke support group. Led by the Temasek Foundation and Trailblazer Foundation, the programme aims to extend adoption of the technology within the local community and help more patients regain their mobility. 

Called Improving Mobility Via Exoskeletons (iMOVE), the clinical study will deploy three exoskeletons -- manufactured by Ekso Bionics -- across five sites under the National University Health System (NUHS): Alexandra Hospital, NTUC Health, St Luke's Eldercare, St Luke's Hospital, and Stroke Support Station. 

"It will study patient outcomes and assess the viability and potential for scaling-up the use of robotic exoskeletons across the continuum of rehabilitation care from hospital to community," said Ekso Bionics, which added that the trial would focus on patients suffering from stroke and spinal cord injuries, in particular, the elderly. 

The pilot will mobilise the EksoGT model, which has been certified for use for such injuries from L5 to C7. With Ekso's SmartAssist software, the exoskeleton can provide "adaptive amounts of power" to either side of the patient's body and is able to mobilise patients earlier and more frequently. According to the US company, the device has aided patients in taking 100 million steps across 260 rehabilitation facilities worldwide. 

Temasek Foundation added that the exoskeletons are able to send data immediately to physical therapists as they work with their patients, enabling the former to make real-time adjustments during the training session. "This makes rehabilitation sessions more intense and aids in quicker and better recovery," it said. 

The role of such technology is crucial Singapore as its rehabilitation needs increase and population continues to age, Chan Heng Kee, permanent secretary for Singapore's Ministry of Health, said at the launch. He noted that the number of new stroke cases in the city-state had climbed to 7,400 each year, from 5,500 over the last decade, with a quarter of these patients having needed to undergo rehabilitation after resolving their initial medical issues. 

Traditionally a labour-intensive activity, rehabilitation could be improved and be less dependent on manpower resources with the use of technology, ranging from virtual reality, to robots, and exoskeletons, Chan said. "When properly deployed, technology can make rehab more accessible and fun, hence, improving patient compliance. It also has the potential to improve diagnosis, monitoring, and therapy effectiveness," he said. 

Chan added that findings from the iMOVE trial would ensure the technology could produce better patient results and cost effectiveness before scaling up its adoption. 

According to local reports, the programme aimed to recruit 400 patients -- the majority of whom would be at least 66 years old -- and include 100 people that have no access to the exoskeleton so they would serve as the control group. 

The Temasek Foundation and Trailblazer Foundation have set aside SG$1.34 million over two years to fund the study, with the fund to be used for the purchase of exoskeletons and training of 12 therapists who would use the suits. 


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