Ground-breaking Augmented Reality app helps patients at Sheffield Children’s Hospital

The Children’s Hospital Charity’s arts programme, Artfelt, have collaborated with designers Megaverse to deliver an augmented reality game to help patients through their treatment with burns-related injuries at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

This innovative application changes the patient experience of treatment, transforming the treatment room into a virtual environment to help children and young people recovering from burn injuries.

The application, which aims to distract patients while they’re being treated, is one of the first times an augmented reality app has been used in a clinical healthcare setting. It aims to reduce stress and anxiety around treatments such as wound dressings. The reduction of stress hormones has been shown to improve wound healing, which in turn improves long-term outcomes by potentially reducing the development of scarring.

Through the app, the treatment rooms are transformed into an exciting array of artic and woodland worlds that come to life through an iPad. The artwork on the walls forms for the backdrop for the game, with a calming 3-D soundscape complete with a variety of compositional layers to ensure it does not become repetitive for those undergoing longer procedures.

The game was designed to appeal to patients of a varying ages and abilities, as well as be suitable for a wide range of medical procedures that vary in length, direction and movement. A wireless charging wall was also developed with the University of Sheffield, allowing the game to load instantly.

Patients interact via screen-based gestures, which allows them to explore and find creatures to interact with. Various tapping interactions have also been added after early research found younger children enjoyed triggering sound effects.

Dr Charlotte Wright, Senior Clinical Psychologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital explained: “Procedural anxiety is usually due to a fear of pain, or memories of similar negative experiences. This can make repeated dressing changes following a burn increasingly distressing for a child, their family and our team.

“Negative experiences in hospital can hinder a patient’s ability to cope with their burn injury and can increase wider symptoms of anxiety and trauma. Distraction has been identified as a useful non-pharmacological intervention for pain and procedural anxiety and using the Artfelt distraction app can help our patients cope with potentially painful procedures. The feedback from both patients and the staff team has been very positive!”

Clinical Nurse Specialist Liz Nicholls also noted a significant improvement in patients’ attitudes to their return appointments: “Children returning for appointments are asking to use the game. They are engaged in play, more co-operative and less distressed throughout the procedure.

“The application has been a really big hit with the children who have used it so far and the adults accompanying them are enjoying the distraction too.”

Among those already enjoying the app is 7-year-old Marnie-Jayne Smith from Goole in Lincolnshire. Two weeks ago, Marnie suffered painful superficial burns down her right side and along her arm, after an accident while her mum Samantha was cooking.

Marnie-Jayne was transferred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital for treatment and now returns regularly to have her wounds assessed and dressings changed. This is where the penguin app is making a real difference to her experience.

Mum Samantha explains: “At the start, she was very brave with the dressings but as the days have gone by, you can see she’s been getting nervous on the journey and going quiet. The last few times she just didn’t want to do it.

“She absolutely loved the penguin game. When she played it, she was completely distracted and didn’t even notice them dressing. She’s already asked to use it next time.

“It’s great that The Children’s Hospital Charity are doing these things to keep children entertained and boost them during their recovery.”

Jade Richardson, Arts and Digital Commissioner at Artfelt added: “Co-operation is so often key to procedures involving children and so it’s really important to make them as fun as possible, particularly those who have longer stays and repeat appointments.

“We worked closely with clinical staff and patients and conducted extensive user testing to ensure they were all at the heart of the game’s development. It also ensured that the game could be put to the best possible use and seamlessly embedded into the patient experience. I’m delighted with the feedback so far.”

Dr Candice Majweski, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield added: “It’s always a genuine pleasure to use our expertise and facilities to support local activities within our community. Sheffield Children’s Hospital holds a special place in the hearts of many, which meant my team and I were delighted to support this project.

“Seeing our Additive Manufacturing technologies helping to provide such a direct impact for young patients and their families has been a real privilege.”