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A robot friend to make doctor visits less painful

Meet MEDi, the friendly robot designed to make painful procedures such as blood tests or vaccines stress-free for children.
/ Source: CNBC

Meet MEDi, the friendly robot designed to make painful procedures such as blood tests or vaccines stress-free for children.

Through simple techniques such as dancing or playing games, MEDi's designers believe the robot can encourage children to work through pain and anxiety while medical staff focus on procedure.

Although the medical industry has increasingly been using robotics in recent years in areas such as surgery, use of robots for patient care is relatively new.

Tanya Beran, a professor at the University of Calgary that developed the technology, says the response to four MEDi robots that were purchased by Canada's Alberta Children's Hospital in January has been overwhelming.

"Families were driving 40 miles to see MEDi. They began asking for MEDi. Even though we only studied children five to nine years old, we have seen MEDi provide comfort to children as young as two years of age and even up to 16 years of age," she told CNBC.

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"Parents told us that when they left the hospital, their children said almost nothing about the needle and told everyone they could about the robot," said Beran, founder and chief scientific officer at Calgary-based MEDi manufacturer RxRobots.

According to research from the journal Vaccine, MEDi's use reduced children's pain in medical procedures by 50 percent.

Beran said that MEDi has the most sophisticated technology on the market and helps fill a gap where there are not enough pain management experts or where parents feel anxious themselves about how to help their child.

The robot can speak 19 languages and be can be programmed to integrate culturally.

According to researchers, approximately 5 percent of parents in a major city in Canada do not take their children for a vaccination because their children are afraid of needles -- something which Beran hopes MEDi can change.

"Our research showed that when children interacted with MEDi, they were more cooperative in the procedure. This means that the procedure is completed more quickly, resulting in greater health care efficiency," she said.

MEDi isn't the only patient care robot being tested -- Boston Children's Hospital is involved in a pilot study on using robots in paediatric care.

Beran said the idea behind MEDi began several years ago when she noticed a teenager show empathy while interacting with a robot for an experiment. She decided to conduct her own research into how children respond to robots as there was little on the subject at the time.

"I was shocked to find that children tend to think that robots are alive," said Beran.