Robotic and sensor-based neurologic rehabilitation for the upper limb is an established concept for motor learning and is recommended in many national guidelines. The complexity of the human hands and arms and the different activities of daily living are leading to an approach in which robotic and sensor-based devices are used in combination to fulfill the multiple requirements of this intervention.
A multidisciplinary team of the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi (FDG), an Italian nonprofit foundation, which spans across the entire Italian territory with 28 rehabilitation centers, developed a strategy for the implementation of robotic rehabilitation within the FDG centers. Using an ad hoc form developed by the team, 4 robotic and sensor-based devices were identified among the robotic therapy devices commercially available to treat the upper limb in a more comprehensive way (from the shoulder to the hand). Encouraging results from a pilot study, which compared this robotic approach with a conventional treatment, led to the deployment of the same set of robotic devices in 8 other FDG centers to start a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Efficiency and economic factors are just as important as clinical outcome.
The comparison showed that robotic group therapy costs less than half per session in Germany than standard individual arm therapy with equivalent outcomes. To ensure access to high-quality therapy to the largest possible patient group and lower health care costs, robot-assisted group training is a likely option.