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Friendly robot helps kids brave needles

Categories: Community, Health, Science & Technology

 Jacob Crawford, 5, interacts with MEDi, a robot designed to comforts children during stressful medical procedures. (RILEY BRANDT / University of Calgary)Visiting the doctor's office can be a terrifying and painful experience for young children, especially when needles are involved.

Some heath care providers use lollipops to stop tears or reward a brave face after the deed is done, but what if kids had something to enjoy during their appointment?

MEDi is a friendly talking robot programmed to help children through painful medical procedures by giving them high fives, making small talk, and moving toys around.

Designed by ALDEBARAN Robtics in France, MEDi - also known as the "Soother-Bot" - has proven incredibly helpful in tests conducted at the Alberta Children's Hospital, reducing anxiety among both parents and children during routine vaccinations.

 MEDi was designed by French company ALBDERAN Robotics, the world leader in humanoid robots. (RILEY BRANDT / University of Calgary) A University of Calgary study published this month in the journal Vaccine reveals that kids who played with the humanoid robot while receiving flu shots felt "significantly less pain" than those who got the shot without MEDi present.

"The robot was distracting the child during distress, but also giving instruction for how to cope," said Tanya Beran, a professor of community health sciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta and the principal investigator of the study to the New York Times. "Deep breathing relaxes the deltoid muscle."

The team notes in their report that of the 57 children studied, all boys and girls between the ages of four and nine who had contact with MEDi during their vaccination recovered more quickly, smiled more and relaxed almost immediately after the needle was removed.

A control group, on the other hand, remained upset after the shot, often refusing to speak with their own parents.

"We know that 50 per cent of children have severe stress and anxiety when it comes to needles, " said Berdan in an interview posted to YouTube by Calgary journalist Zoey Duncan. "As adults, they're less likely to access healthcare systems and services when they have health problems."

Dr. Susan Kuhn, section chief of Infectious Diseases at the Alberta Children's Hospital echoed her statement in an Alberta Health Services post:

"Getting poked with a needle is uncomfortable and is often associated with pain, so children usually arrive crying and literally kicking and screaming. Any distress a child experiences early on carries over into adulthood. We want to create a more positive vaccination experience for children now so they can have a better experience later on in life."

Useful as the robot may be, MEDi (short for Medicine and Engineering Designing Intelligence) doesn't come cheap. Aldebaran Robotics sells the model used by the University of Calgary team under the name NAO for about $15,000.

What are your thoughts on using robotics to soothe children during uncomfortable medical procedures? Can you think of other potential applications for this type of device?

Tags: Health, Science & Technology

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