Whenever a new automation technology is proposed, there are those who convince themselves that the technology will eliminate entire job categories. Though it does happen from time to time, it is rarely the case. New technologies change jobs more often than replacing them outright. Such is likely to be the case with robotics in physical therapy.
Physical therapy jobs have been enhanced somewhat by robots in recent years. The use of robotics in physical therapy is still not that widespread, but strides are being made – especially in the area of exoskeleton suits that can help certain kinds of patients recover from illness or injury more quickly.
A new kind of suit recently introduced by researchers in Austin, Texas incorporates exoskeleton mechanics with customized programs to give new patients enhanced opportunities to complete physical therapy exercises. The suit shows great promise for stroke patients and others whose brains may have to relearn how to move limbs.
Providing the Necessary Strength
Combining exoskeleton technology with physical therapy is all about providing the necessary strength that patients need to recover. For example, imagine a patient learning to walk again after recovering from a broken back. Initially, that patient may not have the strength to stand upright on his own.
An exoskeleton suit gives him that strength. It acts as a support structure that keeps the patient standing while he works with the physical therapist to retrain his brain. And even if the patient is never able to walk again on his own, a suit can still offer him additional mobility in the years following his physical therapy.
Such applications open entirely new doors for physical therapy jobs. Physical therapists already have a certain amount of freedom in developing treatment programs customized to each patient. Giving them access to robotics takes things to an entirely new level.
No Replacement for Human Beings
Watching a patient undergoing physical therapy while supported by a robotic suit may give you pause to think that the days of human therapists are numbered. Rest assured they are not. Even the most advanced robotics are no substitute for human beings.
A physical therapist is a trained professional who understands the human musculoskeletal system inside and out. But there’s more. A licensed physical therapist also knows a thing or two about how the brain reacts to treatment. He knows that successful therapy is as much a mental exercise as a physical one.
A robot cannot replicate that kind of insight. Simply put, computers just don’t have the ability to think. They are not sentient either, so they cannot recognize a correlation between their own existence and that of the patient. Thus, computers cannot develop the kind of personal relationships critical to so many physical therapy treatments.
A New Kind of Physical Therapist
If anything, bringing robotics into the picture may create an entirely new kind of physical therapy job. It is reasonable to imagine a new level of physical therapy made possible by additional training in robotics and computer technology. It is easy to imagine an entirely new specialty centered entirely around robotic therapies.
Right now, internet job boards like Health Jobs Nationwide advertise an abundance of open physical therapy jobs. After seeing how robotics is influencing the field, one cannot help but wonder what those jobs will look like 10 years from now.
In the meantime, there is a new exoskeleton suit on the horizon that could prove extremely helpful to stroke patients. Let us hope the suit proves to be everything researchers claim it can be. It would represent a huge advancement in physical therapy.