A tiny robot is helping patients at L.A. Children’s Hospital cope with cancer treatment

A pediatrician and his patient
At Children's Hospital Los Angeles, robots are providing emotional support to cancer patients. (Getty/shironosov)

Robots might be on their way to taking over the world, but first they’re making a quick pit stop to provide emotional support for pediatric patients.

That's a new approach being tested by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The hospital is using a 13.5-inch robot called IVEY to distract children receiving IV chemotherapy drugs, according to PCMag.

Developed by researchers at the University of Southern California’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center, the friendly looking robot could be a new way to help pediatric patients cope with nerve-wracking procedures. Clinicians are comparing various iterations of IVEY—which offers breathing exercises and visual distractions on a paired tablet—versus human interactions.

“There's a lot of literature now about how stressful and painful situations in childhood lead to later trauma, and, as an adult, perhaps they'll avoid care, leading to bad health outcomes,” Margaret Trost, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s, told PC Mag.

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Hospitals have already embraced the use of robots to provide emotional support, assist with less invasive surgery or reduce nurse workload.

The use of a robot is part of the L.A. hospital’s broader focus on technology and data. Clinicians are also using Fitbits as part of a child obesity project and analyzing patient data through its virtual pediatric intensive care unit, which uses artificial intelligence to sift through 100 different data streams coming from 20 beds.  

ICUs have been a frequent target of data analytics pilot projects given the high level of care required. Across the country, virtual ICUs that combine telehealth and data analytics are helping ICU clinicians prioritize patients with worsening conditions.

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