Can social robots help children in healthcare contexts? A scoping review

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Can social robots help children in healthcare contexts? A scoping review

February 8, 2019

Can social robots help children in healthcare contexts? A scoping review

This review identified 73 studies that explored the use of social robots for children in healthcare applications. Robots were used to serve a range of purposes, including a companion role, teacher/coach, to connect unwell children to school and to assist in therapeutic and educational endeavours. The wide range of target populations highlights many potential applications, in particular for children with disabilities, impairments, and diabetes, who require intensive ongoing care. Although hospitalisation is not necessarily long term, anxiety, pain and distress are often heightened during hospitalisation. There are potential benefits of using social robots if they can help reduce burden in all three of these contexts. Some of the key findings suggest that social robots can help children with diabetes to improve knowledge; reduce anxiety, anger and depression in children with cancer, and engage children with cerebral palsy in exercises to help improve physical functioning.

The humanoid NAO robot was the most widely used, likely due to its commercial availability, ability to be personalised and relatively autonomous capabilities. Its size and appearance makes it appropriate and appealing. The level of control of robots ranged from almost fully autonomous, to entirely controlled by a human operator. There is a clear need for technological developments to increase the autonomy of all of the robots, particularly in speech recognition and speech production.

The results highlight the significant promise and potential held by social robots to help children in healthcare, but demonstrate the need for more and higher quality research. In particular, more randomised control trials (RCTs), experimental designs and longer-terms studies are required, with larger sample sizes. There is considerable excitement surrounding the use of robotics in healthcare, but there remains a long way to go in terms of technological developments, integration into the healthcare system and establishment of effectiveness.

The full article can be downloaded below.