Pepper the vaccine prepper
A humanoid robot called Pepper has proven an effective way to overcome vaccine hesitancy and spread health information, according to researchers.
James Cook University’s Professor Cate Nagle was part of a study which placed Pepper – a 1.4 metre tall, 28 kg robot with human-like features – inside a Queensland hospital and invited patients and staff to interact with it.
Professor Nagle said the use of humanoid robot technologies within healthcare settings is rapidly evolving; but the potential of robots in health promotion and health education had not been well established.
“Our aim was to explore the impact of a social humanoid robot on individuals’ knowledge of influenza (flu) prevention and attitudes towards flu vaccination,” said Professor Nagle.
Nearly a thousand people opted to communicate with Pepper – answering three questions the robot asked about influenza. The questions related to: the best way to avoid getting the flu (vaccination); how long the flu virus can live outside the human body (hours); and the length of time for handwashing to be effective against spreading germs (20 seconds).
The robot immediately told participants if their answers were correct or incorrect.
“The results showed that there was a significant difference in the correct responses pre- and post-test. Importantly, the results also showed that there was a significant difference in attitudes associated with influenza vaccination,” said Professor Nagle.
She said when visitors to the hospital (not staff members) were asked to respond to the importance of having an influenza vaccination before interacting with Pepper, 43.75 per cent either strongly agreed or agreed that influenza vaccination was important. After interacting with the robot this number increased to 89.96 per cent.
She said the use of humanoids may be one way to address an emerging problem in healthcare.
“It’s looking like traditional methods of interventions to improve health literacy may no longer be effective. A recent Australian study showed inadequate health literacy and lower education level were significantly associated with a reluctance to be vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19,” said Professor Nagle.
She said the use of a robot could play an important role in addressing vaccine hesitancy related to poor health literacy in the ongoing COVID-19 or other pandemics.
“More than 99 per cent of participants enjoyed meeting with Pepper. The information provided by the robot was also seen as accurate and trustworthy.
“Getting the attention of the population in public health campaigns now requires health interventions that are engaging, contain quality information and are considered trustworthy. From what we have seen with Pepper in this study, a humanoid robot possesses all these qualities and could be an important part of the mix,” said Professor Nagle.
Professor Cate Nagle