Virtual technology aims to help young people feel more comfortable during hospital visits

Image: Screenshots taken from the app developed by MRes Digital Art and Technology student Kyra Boyle
Screenshots taken from the app developed by MRes Digital Art and Technology student Kyra Boyle

Published: 7 October 2022

A postgraduate student from Plymouth University has worked with clinicians at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT) to develop a new interactive tool, which uses virtual technology, to help improve services for patients.

Hospital environments can be a daunting place for children and young people and the tool aims to help reduce anxiety when accessing healthcare services.

MRes Digital Art and Technology student, Kyra Boyle, worked alongside academics from the University of Plymouth, and The Digital Futures and Paediatric Mental Health Team at TSDFT. Kyra’s initial brief was to give young visitors an awareness of the hospital environment in an enjoyable and engaging way, combining a pre-planned resource with a tool for them to use on the day of their visit.

Currently in prototype form, it is an easy to use and easy to access smart phone application, which young people or families can download before a hospital visit. They can access a range of content such as a 360-degree ward walk and an avatar to help direct them and their families. It aims to address key areas of concern, signpost to important resources and improve support for those struggling with their mental health.

The project was recently shortlisted in the Digital Service for Children and Young People category of the HETT Unexpected Innovation Awards 2022. It has also been awarded additional funding to enable Kyra to complete focus group testing, evaluation and modification of the app in the hope of it going live within for use at the Trust within the next four to six months and has the potential to be rolled out across the South West in the future.

Kyra, who has been undertaking an iMayflower Masters R&D Studentship alongside her studies, said: “For adolescents who have presented at a hospital during a time of crisis, and then need to return for follow-up appointments, it can be daunting. By using this virtual technology, they will familiarise themselves with routes around the hospital which should help significantly lower anxiety levels.

“If they are feeling overwhelmed and need to take time out, they will also be guided to a breakout area. It is great to be part of such a ground-breaking project which will help young people during a difficult time in their life. It is also giving me tangible work experience in a healthcare setting, which helps with my career progression.”

The Digital Futures Programme is an innovative programme being developed for the benefit of patients at the TSDFT and the wider community. Kyra is one of two MRes Digital Art and Technology students, working with clinicians on digital innovation projects working to support people with their rehabilitation following their time in intensive care. Summer’s placement will help support people with their rehabilitation following their time in intensive care.

Jacqueline Rees-Lee, Consultant Plastic and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Director of Medical Education and the Co-Lead of Digital Futures at TSDFT, said: “The Digital Futures programme involves digital technology innovation, developed in conjunction with staff and to benefit and improve patient care in both Torbay Hospital and our community settings.

“Kyra and Summer’s projects are a continuation of our journey to use digital innovation to bring about tangible improvements for our patients and staff. They have achieved a lot already and I am excited to see the outcomes of their hard work.”

Kyra talks more about the interactive tool in this video