Wheelchair-mounted robotic arms: a survey of occupational therapists’ practices and perspectives

Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol. 2021 Dec 22:1-10. doi: 10.1080/17483107.2021.2017030. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: Despite the benefits of wheelchair-mounted robotic arms (WMRAs), occupational therapists are not yet widely involved in the recommendation or implementation of these assistive devices. The purpose of this study was to investigate and compare the current practices and perspectives of occupational therapists who had and had not recommended a WMRA on the recommendation, training, and implementation of WMRAs.

METHODS: This was a descriptive cross-sectional study. An online survey was sent to Canadian, European, and American occupational therapists who had or had not worked with WMRAs. Respondents were asked close-ended questions about their experience, role, barriers, motivations, and future needs regarding WMRAs. We compared results between respondents who had and had not recommended WMRAs using descriptive statistics.

RESULTS: Ninety-three North American and European occupational therapists completed the survey. Of those, 29 (31.2%) had recommended a WMRA, mostly the JACO robotic arm (n = 26, 89.7%) in rehabilitation centres (n = 18, 62.1%). Their perspectives on their role and barriers related to WMRAs were similar to those who had never recommended a WMRA. All respondents recognised the relevance of occupational therapists’ contribution, and most reported interest in WMRAs (n = 76, 81.7%). However, many barriers emerged, mainly related to limited funding (n = 49, 76.6%), lack of training and knowledge (n = 38, 59.4%), and resource constraints (n = 37, 54.4%). Future needs identified matched these barriers.

CONCLUSION: This survey provides novel insight into occupational therapists’ perspectives on WMRAs. It highlights that health professionals need to have easier access to funding, formal training, and resources to support their involvement with WMRAs.Implications for rehabilitationMost occupational therapists are interested in working with WMRAs, considering the potential of these devices to support individuals with upper extremity impairments in their daily activities. They also recognise their unique contribution to the assessment, recommendation, and implementation process among multidisciplinary teams.WMRA recommendation is relevant in various clinical settings and with a wide range of client populations. Nevertheless, it appears that occupational therapists working with adults, in rehabilitation centres or specialised clinics, may have more opportunities to get involved in this process and to attend formal training on this technology, as compared to other settings.Many barriers remain, impeding occupational therapists’ role in the recommendation and implementation of WMRAs. Addressing these barriers may increase the number of devices that are successfully adopted and utilised by individuals with upper extremity impairments. In particular, future research and health policies should focus on access to sufficient funding, formal training, and resources for occupational therapists relative to their role in recommending and implementing WMRAs.

PMID:34936533 | DOI:10.1080/17483107.2021.2017030

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