This Small Robot Helps Take Care of Patients With Chronic Health Issues

Mabu helps patients with chronic health issues manage their treatment.

May 18, 2019

Mabu is a cute little robot with a very big job. Mabu talks to patients and monitors their health from the comfort of the patients own home. That's because the robot which is about the size of a small appliance was created by startup Catalia Health to work with Chronically ill patients to keep them in therapy, at home and not in the hospital.

The startup is the culmination of 20 years of research into human-robot interaction Catalina Health founder and CEO Cory Kidd told ZDNet. Half of the team have technical backgrounds, and the other half have medical backgrounds and include doctors, nurses, and psychologists as well as writers. This combo is what makes the new technology really work.

Catalia Health products are offered as a subscription service to healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. They have been working with Kaiser Permanente heart patients for over a year. The patients, if they choose to accept the robot, do not pay for it, their healthcare company does. That makes it an easier pill to swallow.

After the patient agrees to the service, the patient's history is transferred to Catalina Health, and the startup's technology integrates this information into the personalized home care companion. Each robot has a medical database programmed with information about the patient's condition and medications.

The patient receives a package with everything they need to get their Mabu up and running. When Mabu meets its patient, it introduces itself, confirms the patient's identity and "establishing the nature of the relationship," according to the startup. There is also a touch-screen that displays question for people who have trouble hearing.

The platform tailors conversations to each patient to obtain the hard-to-get data about treatment, challenges, and outcomes on a daily basis. Mabu has daily two-to-three-minute conversations with patients talking about their health, their medication, and eating patterns.

"It has a conversation about what's happening with that patient, asking things like 'I know that you're taking X medication every day, what time do you usually take it?' So, the first conversation is about how the Mabu and the patient can work together," Kidd told ZDNet.

Kidd explained that talking to Mabu is similar to speaking to a personal virtual assistant like Microsoft's Cortana, and Apple's Siri but the conversations are not open-ended.

"The patient can't just walk up to Mabu and ask a question ... we're deliberately not doing open-ended conversations, we're not trying to solve artificial general intelligence, we're not building a chatbot. This is a focused conversation around a particular disease or a particular treatment that is helping that patient," Kidd told ZDNet.

The conversations are real, two-way face-to-face interactions. Depending on the answers provided, conversations can go in multiple directions. Patients can ask for daily reminders if they need them, and the robot will text them, but this is not just a pill reminder.

Kidd stressed that pill reminder apps are focused on people skipping medication because they forget to take it, but that is not usually the case. Patients stop taking medication because they do not believe it is working, because they are feeling better or because there are side effects. That's where the daily interactions with Mabu really help because it can establish why the patient stopped taking medications and get them back on track just like a personal coach.

Mabu can direct a patient to contact his or her pharmacy or physician if the answers show the need and all of the robot-patient interactions are coming back to the system, so professionals are notified immediately if something is urgent and there is a monthly summary report provided for the patient to take to his or her doctor.

"We better connect them back to the human caregivers -- the doctors, the nurses, the pharmacists. Yes, they're there and available, but there is only so much time they have that they can give to each and every one of their patients. We provide a medium to improve that communications process and frequency," Kidd said.

Kidd stressed that the personalized home care companion robot is not designed to replace human caregivers or healthcare professionals but was designed to improve the relationship between patients and practitioners.

Catalia Health designed the technology to work with patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and kidney cancer. Every condition added requires a lot of painstaking research. The initial launch was working with heart patients, and it has been very successful. The company, at the time, is only focusing on the US market.

With no added patient costs, the personalized home care companion seems like an excellent way to keep chronically ill patients on the right path to stay at home and out of hospitals.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.