‘It’s-a-Me!’ – Social robot ‘Mario’ helping children in hospital keep in touch with family

Galway Daily news 'It's-a-Me!' - Social robot 'Mario' helping children in hospital keep in touch with family

It’s a difficult time to be in hospital, regardless of why you are there, with tightened restrictions on visitation that can leave people feeling isolated at a time when they are also feeling most vulnerable.

This is especially true of children, which is something researchers and engineers at NUIG’s medical devices centre CÚRAM are hoping to address with their social robot ‘MARIO’, which is helping children in the paediatrics department connected with their families.

The robot, which has already been nicknamed SuperMario by kids in paediatrics at UHG, is part of the CARE CONNECT project, which aims to build on the success of a pilot teleconferencing platform the hospital adopted for its ICU last year.

Professor Derek O’Keeffe of CÚRAM said “The Covid-19 pandemic has restricted patient’s families from visiting them in hospital and healthcare settings and therefore isolating them from their loved ones.”

“Communication is a vital part of providing medical care and addressing patients’ biopsychosocial needs and their families. This is particularly important in critical care settings, end-of-life situations, and vulnerable patients who rely on family support.”

“It is widely accepted in clinical care that effective communication is key to reducing the psychological burden for patients and their families and patients.”

During the first wave of COVID-19, University Hospital Galway was quick to adopt tech solutions to help patients who were isolated by the new restrictions.

The ‘ICU FamilyLink’ is a bespoke teleconferencing platform that helped patients in critical care keep in contact with loved ones who could not visit in person for safety’s sake.

The CARE CONNECT project aims to build on the success of this initiative by combining the teleconferencing platform with the social robot ‘MARIO’, and expand it to healthcare settings beyond the ICU.

Beyond allowing patients to communicate with their families, it is hoped that it could also be used to remotely educate parents and family members about managing conditions such as Type 1 diabetes.

The project is a partnership between CÚRAM and global technology company Cisco, who provided the software and devices for the original FamilyLink programme.

Shane Heraty, Cisco Country Manager said “We are committed to building a digital and inclusive society, and having successfully implemented the ICU FamilyLink project at the start of the pandemic, we welcome the opportunity to build on it to bring the platform to a broader patient group.”

Dr Aoife Murray, who was part of the team that created the FamilyLink, said “The key to the successful implementation of telemedicine and digital solutions is tailoring the solution to meet patient’s and healthcare provider’s needs.”

“The Medtech and Technology ecosystem in Galway and longstanding relationships with University Hospital Galway create the perfect environment to develop and test technology to ensure it is effective and appropriate for a healthcare setting.”