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Meet Robin – the social robot who improves outlook for children in hospital

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Robin the social companion robot.

A ‘social companion’ robot has been shown to encourage a positive outlook and improve medical interactions for hospitalised children, in a new study.

Robin stands at around four feet tall and has the capabilities to move, talk and play with others while being remotely controlled by humans.

Specialists from UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital’s (LA, US) Chase Child Life Programme conducted hour-long video visits with young patients using Robin, comparing it to interactions using a standard tablet, from October 2020 to April 2021.

At the conclusion of the study period, children and their parents were interviewed about their experiences and child life specialists provided feedback in a focus group. Researchers then used a transcript of the discussion to identify recurrent and salient themes.

Ninety per cent of parents who had a visit with Robin indicated they were “extremely likely” to request another visit, compared to 60 per cent of parents whose children interacted with the tablet.

Children reported a 29 per cent increase in positive affect – described as the tendency to experience the world in a positive way, including emotions, interactions with others and with life’s challenges – after a visit with Robin.

There was a 33 per cent decrease in negative affect. Children who had a tablet visit reported a 43% decrease in positive affect and a 33 per cent decrease in negative affect.

Parents whose children had a visit from Robin reported their children had no change in positive affect and a 75 per cent decrease in negative affect.

Parents whose children had a tablet visit reported their children had a 16 per cent increase in positive affect and no change in negative affect.

Child life specialists who oversaw visits with Robin reported benefits that included a greater display of intimacy and interactivity during play, increased control over their hospital experience and the formation of a new, trusting friendship.

“Our team has demonstrated that a social companion robot can go beyond video chats on a tablet to give us a more imaginative and profound way to make the hospital less stressful,” said Justin Wagner, MD, a paediatric surgeon at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study.

“As the pandemic continues, our patients are still feeling anxious and vulnerable in a variety of ways, so it’s critical that we be as creative as possible to make their experiences easier when they need our help.”

“We saw the positive effect in children, their families and healthcare workers,” adds Wagner. The analysis also suggests benefits to staff, including an increased sense of intimacy with and focus on the patient, increased staff engagement in social care and relative ease in maintaining infection control practices.”

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