BIONIK Laboratories applies robotics, AI, and data analysis to neurological rehabilitation

Between March and June, U.S. hospitals and healthcare systems collectively lost about $51 billion per […]

Between March and June, U.S. hospitals and healthcare systems collectively lost about $51 billion per month because of decreased patient volume and concerns about personal protective equipment. Robots can help improve efficiency and the quality of care, according to BIONIK Laboratories Corp. Its experience in applying robotics and data analytics to rehabilitation demonstrates the importance of startups working with healthcare organizations.

The Toronto-based company’s product portfolio includes three InMotion systems for rehabilitation following stroke and other neurological conditions and two products in development. Its technology is built on research at the Newman Laboratory for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The InMotion robots are designed to provide patient-adaptive therapy and help restore upper-extremity motor control for a broad range of conditions and recovery stages, including early recovery from acute stroke.

In September, the Toronto-based company announced that the Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology (CfNN) bought a second BIONIK InMotion ARM/HAND interactive therapy system. The center, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, purchased its first unit in 2018 and works with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Therapeutic robots to fill gaps

“There are 800,000 stroke patients per year in the U.S., and 15 million worldwide,” said Dr. Eric Dusseux, CEO of BIONIK. “In 2016, BIONIK acquired Interactive Motion Technologies, and we released InMotion Connect in June.”

Dusseux, who has an M.D. and an M.S. in physical chemistry, joined BIONIK in 2017. “I joined the company because of its sense of purpose and as a scientist and entrepreneur,” he told The Robot Report. “BIONIK is a global pioneer in rehabilitation of neurological patients and is present in 15 countries. It has demonstrated in more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, including The New England Journal of Medicine.”

“We wanted to push forward therapy from 70 to 80 movements per hour using artificial intelligence and data analytics,” explained Dusseux. “Normally, patients have limited time with therapists, and we wanted to help them get up to 600 to 1,000 movements per hour to reduce the impact of motor impairment and function. This could improve patient outcomes in terms of range of motion, strength, and coordination.”

BIONIK commits to R&D, data management

“This is an important time for BIONIK,” said Dusseux. “InMotion Connect enables our robotic devices to securely connect and send data to cloud servers hosted by Amazon Web Services. This provides contextual and relevant data to management, therapists, and development teams.”

“The management tool can help large suites of hospitals improve how they operate, demonstrating return on investment and increasing the robotics adoption curve,” he said. “BIONIK provides layers of access, so therapists have access to patient files, but data on the cloud is anonymized for business strategy and technology analysis.”

What sorts of research and development insights can the data provide? “We see how frequently our devices are used, how long therapy sessions are, and how many clinicians use therapy per hospital,” Dusseux replied. “We can also compare across regions, since we can see across more than 20 states in the U.S.”

“Since we launched InMotion Connect, which comes with a lot of services, we see that training is most important. Data helps,” he added. “We provide on-site and Web-based training and have direct access to therapists for training.”

Pandemic and the potential for healthcare automation

While healthcare providers are under financial pressure from SARS-CoV-2, how has the ongoing pandemic affected BIONIK’s rollout of InMotion? “For InMotion Connect, it was twofold,” said Dusseux. “First, hospitals see it as a way to stay connected with staff. For example, a director of rehabilitation wants to see utilization in real time. The pandemic has boosted the launch of this technology.”

“On the other hand, we’ve had to reinvent how we access our clients,” he said. “We’ve launched a series of webinars for training and coaching using multiSurvey, and we’ve deployed a lot of analytic tools.”

With the demand for automation to assist physical therapists rising, competition will escalate, but Dusseux was not overly concerned.

“Robotic devices and AI in healthcare are evidence-based and peer-reviewed. We are on the cutting edge of science,” he said. “What we see with BIONIK’s data solution is that we’re enabling clients to reinvent how they manage their own resources. They can be more efficient and better train staff to understand patient needs. They don’t have to wait three months for data.”

BIONIK looks to customization, globalization

“There’s a need to customize solutions and work with hospitals,” Dusseux said. “We could help them, as neurological patients need motivation. We could also push hospitals to feed new applications of robotic devices with data.”

BIONIK is working on other systems besides InMotion, but they are still in development, he said. The company is currently sharing InMotion Connect data only with U.S. customers, but as it learns more, it plans to develop for all regions.

“What we’ve learned with guide us to refine our systems and where to reach next,” said Dusseux. “We are expanding to new countries — earlier this year, we got approval in South Korea for robotic devices.”

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