In class on Thursday we discussed the article, “Robots that Care” by Jerome Groopman. This article brings forth the idea of robots in medical care facilities. Maja Mataric, a professor at USC, works with stroke and Alzheimer’s patients and autistic children to try to encourage physical and cognitive rehabilitation through the use of robotics. Although her robots would not be able to touch the patients without approval from the FDA, they would be able to coach the patients orally. She began a pilot trial in 2003 for a stroke victim in her home. The robot would persuade her to use her weakened limb in daily activities, instead of doing everything with her strong arm. This is a very important role because the few weeks following a stroke are the most important in regaining control and sensation. Many people will resort to using their strong arm because it is easier and they often get frustrated trying to use their weakened one. Physical and occupational therapists take on this role when they are working with the patient, however they cannot attend the patient 24/7. When the patient is alone, they need a constant reminder to work at getting their affected limb back by keeping it active. This is why this robot would be very beneficial in the recovery of stroke victims. Many people in class were saying that they were opposed to this idea but the fact is that without constant guidance, many people will not make the most of this dire recovery period.
These medical robots are not meant to replace therapists. They are simply “tools to enhance a doctor’s or a therapist’s techniques”. This is the same idea as orthotic devices that help improve motor control and range of motion. It provides constant assistance to people who need it. The article also mentions a robotic exoskeleton for patients who have damage to their cerebellum and have trouble controlling their limbs. Again, this is the same idea. The patient needs constant support. Not only is the robot persuading you to use your affected limb to work towards making it better, it is also keeping you safe. Many patients think that they can do everything on their own and overestimate how much they can do. They may try to get up on their own and end up hurting themselves further in the process.
Mataric’s team found, based on a pilot trial involving six stroke patients, that the patient was more inclined to do the task when encouraged by the robot than when he or she was alone. One woman even said that she prefers the robot to her husband because it is more reliable. Mataric even categorized the personalities of stroke victims and adjusted the robot’s degree of sociability accordingly. This way, more introverted people would have the programmed robot stay further away from the patient and speak slower at a lower pitch and more extroverted people would have the programmed robot move closer and be more forceful. Mataric insists that “robotic interaction should not replace human interaction, it should only improve it.”