New hospital robot has right medicine for stressed kids

Ian Bushnell 27 August 2018


Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris and MEDiZen. Photo: Supplied.

Say hello to MEDiZen, your sick child’s new best friend at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children, but it’s no toy.

The first NAO humanoid robot with MEDi applications in a paediatric ward in Australia, MEDiZen will help its youngest patients return to full health by calming and distracting them during medical procedures.

The robot, which runs on the Medicine and Engineering Designing Intelligence (MEDi) software, was developed and tested at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada over a three-year period, where it was found to significantly improve the hospital experience for young patients by reducing their stress.

Dr Tanya Beran, a professor of community health science at the University of Calgary, got the idea for MEDi after working in hospitals where children scream at the thought of getting a needle.

“I thought that maybe they would respond to a child-friendly robot to help them face medical procedures,” she told NBC.

MEDi started with flu vaccines and blood tests, then expanded to include IV and catheter removal and brain-activity tests. It could even be programmed with a child’s favourite story.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris said coming into hospital, particularly for young patients and their families, could be quite a daunting experience.

“We are very fortunate that the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children is the first paediatric ward in Australia to have a humanoid robot with these specialised applications designed to lift children’s spirits, provide a distraction and talk them through procedures,” she said.

“Providing clinical care to a child who is calm and more focused on the robot, rather than the medical procedure is less stressful for all.”

Ms Fitzharris said the testing period had shown the MEDi robot changed the outlook of children on their hospital stays.

“Children who have had interaction with ‘MEDiZen’ usually leave the hospital setting chatting about the robot, rather than the procedure or appointment they may have had,” Ms Fitzharris said.

“Through this innovative new approach provided by ‘MEDiZen’, we want our youngest patients to have the most positive experience they can under difficult circumstances.”

The $25,000 purchase of the MEDi robot was made possible through a generous donation from the EVT (Event Hospitality and Entertainment) Charity Committee to the Canberra Hospital Foundation.

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