UK children's hospital launches augmented reality app for young patients

By Jonah Comstock
01:04 pm

Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, UK has launched a new augmented reality tablet app for children to entertain, educate, and distract the hospital's young children. In Alder Play, available on iOS and Android, children can choose an animated avatar who will appear on the app as they visit different parts of the hospital and offer them entertainment, information, and support, as well as challenges they can complete to unlock new content.

"Our vision is to transform the experience of children in hospital," Nik Barnes, a consultant who originated the idea for the app, said in a statement. "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. Rewards can be given for something as simple as having a dressing changed, to getting out of bed after an operation or having a scan.”

Alder Hey worked with a lot of partners on the project, including IBM Watson and Hasbro, who both contributed content. IBM Watson's technology powers "Ask Ollie," a chatbot in the app for both parents and children to answer any questions they have about their stay. Alder Hey Children’s Charity, Shop Direct, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and NHS England helped fund the project, while Hasbro, FACT Liverpool, Jungle Interactive, Lucy Casson, TATE Liverpool, The Hartree Centre, IBM, Studiowide, and ustwo all provided free content to support it.

“We’re so impressed by the high-level of care children receive at Alder Hey and immensely proud to continue supporting the hospital and charity," ​Craig Wilkins, marketing director of Hasbro UK and Ireland, said in a statement. "It’s deeply saddening that illness can affect those so young, and we’re honored to launch an app, using our animated content, to give these inspiring children encouragement and relief during their hospital experience.”

In addition to the augmented reality features and the chatbot, the app includes educational videos that explain and show what it's like to get a blood test or an X-ray. Children can also collect badges for tests, treatments, or operations they go through during the course of their stay. 

The app launched in the App Store and Google Play Store on November 8th. Because NHS England was a backer of the project, there's a strong chance that, if it is well-received, versions of the app could be built for other children's hospitals in the UK.

The idea of augmented reality, where the device camera and location tracking are used to superimpose digital content on the real world, has been floating around the digital health space for a long time, but the smash hit mobile game Pokémon Go catapulted it back into prominence last year. A number of startups are starting to look at its applications in surgery and surgical training, but patient-facing healthcare use cases for the technology, like Alder Play, are still novel.


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