Genesis Tests Exoskeleton as Part of Innovation Push

The rehab-focused subsidiary of Genesis HealthCare (NYSE: GEN) is making an effort to study and pilot new technology—including futuristic innovations like an exoskeleton for rehab patients.

The Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis Rehab Services (GRS), which provides rehabilitation services at more than 1,700 locations across the U.S., is linking up with some forward-thinking startups to foster new ideas, products and services, according to Sarah Thomas, senior director of innovation at GRS.

Like other large companies in the skilled nursing and rehab sector, Genesis is facing a slew of challenges, including tight labor markets, occupancy pressures, and evolving reimbursement models. It sees technology as one important part of meeting challenges, potentially enabling better patient outcomes in less time.

“We want to be leaders in that adoption, and we believe by co-creating and collaborating in the development of these products and services we’re achieving greater outcomes and success,” Thomas told Skilled Nursing News.

As for how the company is identifying promising tech, Genesis is a partner of Aging 2.0, a startup accelerator network that connects large aging and senior care providers with technology companies and innovators. Thomas is also an executive-in-residence at Aging 2.0.

Exoskeletons in rehab

One futuristic technology GRS is testing is an exoskeleton suit for rehab patients. The industry giant on Aug. 8 commenced a six-month pilot project with Ekso Bionics (Nasdaq: EKSO) to use one of the company’s EksoGT devices at its Layhill Center in Silver Spring, Md.

EksoGT (pictured above) is an FDA-cleared, powered exoskeleton designed to help people recovering from a strokes or spinal cord injuries get back on their feet sooner. The device provides support to patients as a physical therapist guides them through balance, pre-gait and walking exercises.

The collaboration is aimed at analyzing whether such exoskeletons have significant clinical or economic benefits in the post-acute rehab space.

“The hope is to study the impact on recovery time and normalizing the gait patterns with the support of a wearable exoskeleton to see if it improves the time, result, outcome and the efficiency of the care that we can deliver,” Thomas said.

The collaboration is still ongoing—and GRS has not officially endorsed the product—but the early results are “promising,” Thomas said.

“We’re seeing positive engagement by the patients who are using it,” she added. “And a really positive response from the clinicians who are able to use cutting-edge technology to transform how they deliver care.”

Though this is the first such collaboration for Ekso, exoskeletons might one day play a larger role in the rehab services SNFs provide, according to Josip Markus, director of business development at Ekso Bionics.

“Exoskeletons of various forms and functions have great potential to help individuals throughout the healthcare continuum, from the acute phase all the way to the home and community setting—for rehabilitation, mobility, and general strength and endurance augmentation,” Markus told SNN. “We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the potential that exoskeletons hold for health care, and beyond.”

GRS isn’t following the traditional “buy a product, try a product, scale a product” model in rolling out EksoGT, though. Instead, the focus of the collaboration is on understanding how an exoskeleton rehab program would function in the real world.

“We want to help study if it’s possible to move it beyond the hospital setting…to see if it benefits the patients that we’re treating at Genesis Rehab Services,” Thomas said. “This opportunity could certainly expand with our Genesis rehab programs beyond the centers that Genesis owns and operates.”

Smart socks

Another effort Genesis is undertaking involves clothing that collect data about the wearer.

GRS formed a new company with Sensoria, a developer of sensor-infused smart garments. The announcement was officially unveiled during the 11th Annual Health 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Genesis did not disclose its exact ownership stake in Sensoria, but the company’s new product line is co-branded as “Sensoria Health powered by Genesis Rehab Services.”

Sensoria Health includes socks that can monitor a patient’s motion, gait and balance. The socks are aimed at avoiding falls in older adults and helping prevent pressure sores among patients with diabetes.

“We’re able to use the sensing socks to notice the changes of pressure on the foot potentially earlier than when the person might notice the change so we can help with early intervention,” Thomas said.

Though Sensoria Health is still crafting its go-to-market strategy, the new products could be marketed to global businesses or directly to consumers.

“We’re exploring avenues of distribution for the direct-to-cosumer model, the [business-to-business-to-consumer] model and [seeking] partners to help to do that,” Thomas said.

GRS is no stranger to taking emerging technology companies under its wing.

The provider has in the past collaborated with Sword Health, a Portuguese startup that developed an AI-powered digital physical therapist assistant. GRS has also worked with MyndYou, an Israel-based provider of an AI platform that provides callback services to people in their home after a care episode.

Written by Tim Regan

(Featured photo courtesy of Ekso Bionics)

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Tim Regan
Tim is a lover of bad jokes and good beer. When he's not hunched over his work computer, Tim can usually be found hunched over his personal computer.

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