Clinician Perceptions of Robotic Exoskeletons for Locomotor Training After Spinal Cord Injury: A Qualitative Approach

Linda Ehrlich-Jones*, Deborah S. Crown, Dominique Kinnett-Hopkins, Edelle Field-Fote, Cathy Furbish, Chaithanya K. Mummidisetty, Rachel A. Bond, Gail Forrest, Arun Jayaraman, Allen W. Heinemann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To describe the experiences of clinicians who have used robotic exoskeletons in their practice and acquire information that can guide clinical decisions and training strategies related to robotic exoskeletons. Design: Qualitative, online survey study, and 4 single-session focus groups followed by thematic analysis to define themes. Setting: Focus groups were conducted at 3 regional rehabilitation hospitals and 1 Veteran's Administration (VA) Medical Center. Participants: Clinicians (N=40) reported their demographic characteristics and clinical experience using robotic exoskeletons. Twenty-nine clinicians participated in focus groups at regional hospitals that use robotic exoskeletons, as well as 1 VA Medical Center. Interventions: Not applicable. Main Outcome Measure: Clinicians’ preferences, experiences, training strategies, and clinical decisions on how robotic exoskeleton devices are used with Veterans and civilians with spinal cord injury. Results: Clinicians had an average of 3 years of experience using exoskeletons in clinical and research settings. Major themes emerging from focus group discussions included appropriateness of patient goals, patient selection criteria, realistic patient expectations, patient and caregiver training for use of exoskeletons, perceived benefits, preferences regarding specific exoskeletons, and device limitations and therapy recommendations. Conclusions: Clinicians identified benefits of exoskeleton use including decreased physical burden and fatigue while maximizing patient mobility, increased safety of clinicians and patients, and expanded device awareness and preferences. Suitability of exoskeletons for patients with various characteristics and managing expectations were concerns. Clinicians identified research opportunities as technology continues to advance toward safer, lighter, and hands-free devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Exoskeleton device
  • Focus group
  • Rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation

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