Robots used to comfort sick kids at Alberta Children’s Hospital

CALGARY – Staff at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are now using four childlike robots to comfort young patients during stressful medical procedures.

The two-foot-tall robots are programmed to mimic the actions of a child and can help calm nervous youngsters with small talk and high-fives.

The robots, named MEDi (Medicine and Engineering Designing Intelligence), will be used during procedures such as vaccinations and blood tests.

“We’ve been testing the MEDi robots here for almost three years and it has become quite clear that this technology significantly improves the health care experience for our young patients and their parents and caregivers,” says Margaret Fullerton with the Alberta Children’s Hospital. “[We are] fortunate to have access to the first robots in Canada specifically programmed to help children manage painful or stressful medical procedures.”
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In a recent study conducted by Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary, 57 children between the ages of four and nine were able to interact with MEDi while receiving their seasonal influenza vaccination at Alberta Children’s Hospital.

The study showed children who interacted with the robots reported 50 per cent less pain compared to those who received their vaccination with little or no distraction.

“Robots can be used during blood tests and IV starts and other uncomfortable procedures, such as stitches or fracture sets. It can even be used for procedures that aren’t painful but cause distress for children, such as X-rays,” explained Dr. Tanya Beran from the University of Calgary. “The opportunities are endless.”

READ MORE: New robot helps Calgary kids brave vaccinations

Sheila Sousa says the MEDi robots have been a source of comfort for her nine-year-old son, who visits Alberta Children’s Hospital every two weeks for injections to manage his severe asthma.

“The procedure wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable with MEDi in the room,” said Sousa. “Not only did it calm him down, but it helped me knowing Aidan was preoccupied and interested in something other than his treatment. It made the entire experience so much easier.”

The four robots were funded by community donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

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Developers plan to further enhance the technology by personalizing the interactions through the use of facial recognition software. Officials say MEDi would then be able to greet patients by name and customize conversations according to the patient’s history.

WATCH: MEDi robot performs Tai Chi

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