Researchers from the University of Tsukuba discovered that wearing a soft robot can enhance the patient experience during medical treatments.
While most of us cannot live without our cell phones, robots may soon become indispensable companions. It certainly seems so based on the recent experiments conducted by researchers in Japan, who developed a hand-held soft robot that can improve the experience of patients while undergoing potentially unpleasant medical procedures, such as injections.
Public health officials realized that some individuals just fear needles, which led to lower vaccination rates, during the campaign to promote vaccination against COVID-19. Despite extensive research into the issues of patient anxiety and anxiety during medical procedures, there is still a need to test and put into practice solutions to help patients.
In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Tsukuba created a wearable soft robot for patients to use during treatments in an attempt to ease pain. The research participants who wore the robot felt less discomfort during tests when they were exposed to a mild heat stimulus than those who did not.
“Our results suggest that the use of wearable soft robots may reduce fear as well as alleviate the perception of pain during medical treatments, including vaccinations,” says senior author Professor Fumihide Tanaka.
The scientists’ soft, fur-covered robot, Reliebo, was meant to be connected to the participant’s hand and had miniature airbags that could inflate in response to hand movements. The researchers examined its effectiveness under various conditions depending on the participant’s hand clenching, while applying the painful heat stimulus to the other arm that was not holding the robot.
The researchers also measured the levels of oxytocin and cortisol (which are biomarkers for stress) from the patient’s saliva samples. Additionally, subjective pain ratings were recorded using an assessment scale, and a survey test was conducted to evaluate the patients’ fear of injections and psychological state before and after the experiments.
The researchers found that holding the robot helped relieve the experience for patients regardless of the experimental conditions used, and speculated that the feelings of well-being that can be created by human touch may have also been activated by the robot.
“It is well known that interpersonal touch can reduce pain and fear, and we believe that this effect can be achieved even with nonliving soft robots,” states Professor Tanaka. This may be useful when actual human contact is not feasible, such as during pandemics. Future versions of the robot might use a controlled gaze or even AR (augmented reality) technologies to help build a connection with the patient or distract them from pain perception in various situations.
Reference: “A wearable soft robot that can alleviate the pain and fear of the wearer” by Youchan Yim, Yohei Noguchi, and Fumihide Tanaka, 17 October 2022, Scientific Reports.