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Virtual reality app to help children having surgery at Sheffield Children’s

mum and daughter looking at app on phone
09 January 2020

A new virtual reality app is allowing children awaiting surgery to explore Sheffield Children’s – from the waiting area to the operating theatre – and get prepared for their visit all from the comfort of their own home.

The Little Journey smartphone app has animated doctors, nurses and anaesthetists to show children around the hospital and explain what happens when you come to the hospital for surgery. Characters such as a koala nurse and a rhinoceros doctor pop up to answer questions and talk through what happens in each area.

The app is available free of charge and is aimed at children, young people and their families who are due to go to the hospital for surgery. By explaining things and making the spaces more familiar, the app can make the idea of coming to hospital more manageable.

Dr Nina Plant, consultant paediatric anaesthetist at Sheffield Children’s, said: “We’re delighted to be able to offer this app to patients of all ages.

“The run up to having surgery can be a stressful time– this wonderful app allows patients and families to understand what will happen when they come to the hospital and what it looks like before they come in. We hope that this will educate patients and families about the process, lower stress and anxiety when they come in for surgery. Overall, we hope it makes their experience here easier and more relaxed.”

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has teamed up with app designers Little Sparks to launch the Little Journey app for children and young people aged 3 to 16 coming to the hospital for surgery. The app is already used in other trusts, and the Sheffield Children’s app is adapted just for the children and families it serves.

Little Journey provides 360 degree views of all of the actual areas patients will visit at the hospital, as well as videos talking through what happens when they come in for surgery – all tailored to the child’s age. There is also a parents section to help prepare the whole family for the theatre journey with extra practical information and checklists, and even a breathing exercise to help everyone relax!

Every year, Sheffield Children’s sees 10,000 patients for planned surgery. In the UK overall more than 500,000 children undergo planned surgery. Anxiety before surgery is very common, occurring in around three-quarters of these children, and knowing what is going to happen can help to reduce this.

When a child is booked in for surgery at Sheffield Children’s they will be provided with detail of the app so they can play with it at home and become familiar with the space and the process. It can even be viewed in virtual reality by attaching a headset to your smartphone.

Caimbria Lockwood​, a play specialist at Sheffield Children’s, said: “We value the art of play here and use it to reduce anxiety around medical procedures and to help explain and educate families about what happens at hospital. We use technology and simple arts and crafts so this app is a great addition to help our patients have the smoothest and least stressful journey to surgery as possible.”

The app is free to download from Google Play​ or the App Store.


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