Awesome virtual kids app is helping poorly children in hospital

By Kitty Knowles 11 December 2017

Alder Play: The 'Pokémon Go' style app supported by NHS England, IBM Watson and ustwo.

Hospitals are scary enough for grown-ups. They can be even more terrifying for kids.

But now, playful friendly technology is being used to help young patients feel happier during their hospital stay.

Alder Play is a new virtual app that launched last month in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

It uses Pokémon Go-style tech to help sick children feel safe.

How it works

Alder Play is an augmented reality app for tablets that’s designed to both educate and entertain.

Children choose an animated avatar who can act as a virtual guide as they visit different parts of the hospital.

This friend can play games with to distract them from scary thoughts, and can minimise anxiety by answering questions about what medical procedures need to happen and why.

Kids can watch educational videos that show what it’s like to get an x-ray, for example. All while collecting badges for any tests, treatments, or operations they undergo.

“Our vision is to transform the experience of children in hospital,” says Nick Barnes, the consultant behind the app. “We wanted to distract patients during procedures, and reduce their worries and fears.”

“Rewarding children following procedures and treatments was another vital element as it helps to encourage their progress – [they] can be given for something as simple as having a dressing changed, to getting out of bed after an operation or having a scan.”

The bigger picture

The new Alder Play app is a great example of co-operation across disciplines.

Alder Hey Children’s Charity, Shop Direct, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and NHS England all helped fund the project, while ustwo, IBM, Hasbro, FACT Liverpool, Jungle Interactive, Lucy Casson, Tate Liverpool, The Hartree Centre, IBM, and Studiowide, all contributed free content to support it.

While IBM embedded its IBM Watson artificial intelligence in the app to power its a chatbot, London design studio ustwo ensured that the app looks calm and friendly.

“The interactive features such as collectable AR stickers and buddies who can guide you around the hospital, are key to encouraging young patients to engage with the app, rewarding them for their bravery and can provide much-needed entertainment for patients having procedures,” Holly Brennan, a UX Lead at ustwo told The Memo.

“ustwo’s mission is to make products and services that have a meaningful impact on people’s daily lives and we cannot think of anything more meaningful than working with Alder Hey to transform children’s experience of hospital.”

Dom Raban is also building virtual hospitals to help sick kids. Image: Virtual Patients Guide.

The future

It’s not the first time we’ve seen leaders using virtual technologies to innovate the health space.

This summer we met one awesome dad building virtual hospitals to help sick kids fight their cancer fears. Like Alder Play this also includes gaming, educational, and ‘digital friend’ elements.

In other areas of healthcare, we’re seeing American doctors use Google Glasses to better assess patients; virtual reality headsets are being used by everyone from sperm donors to physiotherapists; and in mental health, we’re seeing VR help widows grieve, treat schizophrenia patients, and cure phobias.

Because Alder Play was actually backed by NHS England there’s a high chance that – if all goes well – it could be rolled out to help kids in hospitals across the UK.

Everyone appreciates a friendly face when they’re not well.

Here’s to making sick kids feel just that little bit better.