Pediatric patients at the Alberta Children's Hospital (ACH) have four new robotic friends to accompany them as they encounter intimidating medical procedures.

On Wednesday, hospital officials hosted a meet-and greet with the two-foot-tall robots known as MEDis (Medical and Engineering Designing Intelligence).

“We’ve been testing the MEDi robots here for almost three years and it has become quite clear that this technology significantly improves the health care experience for our young patients and their parents and caregivers,” explains Margaret Fullerton, Senior Operating Officer at ACH. “The Alberta Children’s Hospital is fortunate to have access to the first robots in Canada specifically programmed to help children manage painful or stressful medical procedures. It’s a useful, and very cool, technology.”

During a recent study conducted during flu vaccinations, children who interacted with MEDi during their visit reported less pain when receiving their shot then their peers who faced the needle alone. The study, conducted by AHS and the U of C researchers, found 50 per cent of children aged 4 to 9 experienced less pain with a friendly robot at their side.

MEDI is programmed to make small talk with children and offer high fives during medical procedures including blood tests, injections and vaccinations.

Nine-year-old Aidan Sousa has been diagnosed with severe asthma and his family makes frequent trips to ACH.

“His asthma is pretty extreme, pretty severe,” said Sheila Sousa, Aidan’s mother. “We come every two weeks to medical day treatment. He gets injections, lasts about two hours and they’re needles so he gets them in the arms, the legs, they alternate every two weeks.”

“He’s a real trouper. It’s tough for little kids to be born into this and go through it. Any distraction, any work with the child life specialist we have when we’re in medical day treatment is amazing and it just helps them get through these difficult times.”

Sheila Sousa says MEDi is a welcome distraction for nervous children.

“The worst thing is the children build up that energy of ‘this is gonna hurt’,” said Sousa. “Having MEDi there to distract them and help them breathe through the procedure is gonna really, really help these kids.”

The four robots were funded by donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

The MEDi development team hopes to improve future interactions between patients and robots by incorporating facial recognition software which will allow robots to ‘remember’ the children.