Good health is by far one of the most basic goals people share. As those in the workforce get older, though, and as the senior population continues to balloon, traditional ways of managing chronic conditions simply aren't going to cut it anymore. Enter Mabu, an adorable but seriously sophisticated robot designed to help you take better care of yourself at home.

What Mabu does

The brain child of Dr. Cory Kidd, CEO of Catalia Health, Mabu is a portable, bust-like robot you can sit on your nightstand, coffee table, counter or anywhere else that's convenient. Conversation-based, Mabu will ask questions and talk with you to get a sense of how you're feeling on any given day. Data collected about nutrition, activities, pain, etc. then goes to your care team. Mabu can send additional messages to your care team upon request, too.

You can check out Mabu in action in this video:

Although Mabu could help any patient in theory, Kidd envisions and targets it primarily for those with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis or diabetes. Although these types of conditions affect seniors with high rates, they affect people across all age groups, as well. The market for Mabu thus stands at 117 million in the United States alone--that's the number of Americans with chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mabu's deeper mission

Mabu's main purpose, Kidd says, is to get people to follow the treatment plans their doctors recommend so they finally can get well. The lack of plan adherence can happen for a wealth of reasons, but Kidd says that personal challenges and side effects are common culprits. A lack of sufficient caregiver time, which makes monitoring difficult, is an additional worry.

"When patients don't follow treatment plans," Kidd asserts, "[...] their health doesn't improve and thus creates the cycle of absorbing healthcare system resources, no follow through on treatment or medication, and ultimately remaining unhealthy."

Racking up savings

While supporting good health is the top priority for Mabu, the robot is also a matter of economy. Kidd notes, for example, that individuals not taking medications as prescribed costs the U.S. approximately $290 billion every year. Mabu can provide communications and reminders to address this problem.

But this isn't the only money-draining hole Mabu could plug. Even basic check-in visits to a doctor can be expensive, with related considerations like taking time off work, finding child care or paying for transportation service jacking up the expense. Mabu reduces the need to physically visit a clinic for basic communications, giving you a way to check in with high frequency without incurring these costs or overwhelming your provider. And if providers aren't as overwhelmed, quality of care can improve. That further reduces general health care expense, as practitioners can spend more time with patients for reduced readmissions, faster, more accurate diagnoses or plan modifications.

From the business side, employers might come to like Mabu because better care can translate to cheaper insurance rates. That means it's easier for companies to give workers of any age with chronic conditions coverage as a perk while still remaining comfortably in the black financially. Currently, employers pitch in 83 and 72 percent of premium costs for single and family coverage, respectively.

Playing the mind game for better health

As you might expect, Kidd didn't hesitate to pull doctors, nurses and technology experts to make Mabu reality. But the key to having the robot work, Kidd says, is psychology. Elements like humor, eye contact and personality-based language preferences all influence whether an individual feels connected to the device. The more you feel connected to or like you have a relationship with Mabu, the more the odds go up that you'll use it regularly. And the more you use Mabu, the better your odds are of changing health behaviors for the better and staying on track for the long term.

Because psychology plays such a critical role in Mabu's success, Kidd did studies for more than a decade to understand exactly what happens during human-robot interaction. He worked not only with licensed psychologists and psychotherapists who could offer behavorial and social insights, but also with Hollywood script writer, Elizabeth Arredondo. These professionals made sure that interacting with Mabu feels natural and fun. And while Mabu of course isn't human, the perception of the robot as being more like a real person might add even more positive results--research shows that interaction can boost mental and physical wellness, likely due to the reduction in stress socialization and affirmation can offer.

Moving forward

Kidd admits that making changes in health care is challenging. But since pharmaceutical companies and healthcare systems pay for Mabu, the cost to patients is $0. Patient response also has been extremely positive, with some individuals even being reluctant to give the robot back.

"Patients love Mabu once they get to know her," Kidd says. "They name her and dress her up--a testament to the type of bond they develop with her."

Kidd hopes to improve Mabu--for example, improving natural speech and adding new disease states--over time, as well.

Mabu isn't a substitute for visiting your doctor when you really need to. But in an age when artificial intelligence does everything from order you food to scan for liars at airports, it makes sense for the healthcare industry to get on board and use these kinds of devices to improve service, especially as demand for care only goes up. As demonstrated in the video below, the age of robot care is coming. It's just going to be a matter of which robot can fit your care needs best.

Published on: Sep 12, 2017