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Social Robots and Other Relational Agents to Improve Patient Care

January 1, 2017

Wang, V.H.S. & Osborne, T.F. (2017). Social Robots and Other Relational Agents to Improve Patient Care. In: Chau, D. & Osborne, T.F. Eds. Using Technology to Improve Care of Older Adults. Springer Publishing Company.

Grounded in a unique team-based geriatrics perspective, this book delivers a broad range of current, evidence-based knowledge about innovative technology that has the potential to advance the care and well-being of older adults. It provides key information about the development, selection, and implementation of technology products, and describes research evidence, education-based initiatives, and systems thinking. The book also examines challenges and barriers to implementation, adoption, and innovation.

From telehealth and assistive technology in the home to simulation and augmented reality in educational settings, the text provides a hands-on, field-tested articulation of how products can aid in the transitional care process, chronic care delivery, and geriatrics/gerontology education. It discusses technology developments in rural areas, home telehealth, wearable technology, personalized medicine, social robots, technology to assist seniors with cognitive impairments, and the potential of artificial intelligence to enhance health care of older adults. The text is written to help health care professionals select the appropriate technology for their needs.


  • Describes the most current technology resources, evidence, and developments for older adult care

  • Based on a team-centered approach

  • Written by interprofessional health care providers experienced in implementing, developing, and adopting technology to assist older adults

  • Addresses the challenges, barriers, and opportunities for transforming aging with technology across transitions of care


This chapter introduces the concept of a “relational agent”, a technological entity that can build social relationships. Such an agent can be represented in many forms, ranging from a voice originating from a “black box”, to a virtual animated nurse on a computer monitor, or even a robotic puppy. Relational agents hold the promise to help solve some of the fundamental challenges facing health care, such as limited human resources, to operationalize important follow-up care protocols and to provide the psychosocial support necessary to improve self-management, and reduce overall costs in certain complex patient populations. This chapter is organized into three main sections. First, it provides the context and general overview of the field. It then describes the different types of relational agents, and, finally, the chapter presents specific examples and scientific evidence for each category of relational agent.

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