Friendly robot helps kids brave needles

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.
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?