Wearable powered exoskeletons are a new and emerging technology developed to provide sensory-guided motorized lower limb assistance enabling intensive task specific locomotor training utilizing typical lower limb movement patterns for persons with gait impairments. To ensure that devices meet end-user needs it is important to understand and incorporate end-users perspectives, however research in this area is extremely limited in the post-stroke population. The purpose of this study was to explore in-depth, end-users perspectives, persons with stroke and physiotherapists, following a single-use session with a H2 exoskeleton.
We used a qualitative interpretive description approach utilizing semi-structured face to face interviews, with persons post-stroke and physiotherapists, following a 1.5 h session with a H2 exoskeleton.
Five persons post-stroke and 6 physiotherapists volunteered to participate in the study. Both participant groups provided insightful comments on their experience with the exoskeleton. Four themes were developed from the persons with stroke participant data: (1) Adopting technology; (2) Device concerns; (3) Developing walking ability; and, (4) Integrating exoskeleton use. Five themes were developed from the physiotherapist participant data: (1) Developer-user collaboration; (2) Device specific concerns; (3) Device programming; (4) Patient characteristics requiring consideration; and, (5) Indications for use.
This study provides an interpretive understanding of end-users perspectives, persons with stroke and neurological physiotherapists, following a single-use experience with a H2 exoskeleton. The findings from both stakeholder groups overlap such that four over-arching concepts were identified including: (i) Stakeholder participation; (ii) Augmentation vs. autonomous robot; (iii) Exoskeleton usability; and (iv) Device specific concerns. The end users provided valuable perspectives on the use and design of the H2 exoskeleton, identifying needs specific to post-stroke gait rehabilitation, the need for a robust evidence base, whilst also highlighting that there is significant interest in this technology throughout the continuum of stroke rehabilitation.