Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Gamification

By Amy Dunn, Director of Hematology, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Amy Dunn, Director of Hematology, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Hospitals are places for healing where people's experiences are often marked by anxiety and pain. In a way, these memories build on themselves and sometimes make patients express more pain, fear, and worry than necessary because they are drawing on their past unpleasant experiences at the hospital. At our hospital, patients with bleeding disorders like Hemophilia undergo frequent intravenous infusions of medication for treatment. If exposure to needle-related procedures causes the patients to develop a fear of needles, it leads to avoidance behaviors, families, and the nursing staff gets anxious, and consequently, the patient outcome is harmed. Instead of superficial and temporary solutions, we needed a holistic solution to help patients, families and the nursing staff to navigate such problems in order to improve the treatment of the illness.

Jeremy Patterson, User Experience Technology Research and Development Team Lead, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and his design team developed such a solution by leveraging technology that enables us to make the entire treatment process related with the needles less anxiety provoking for everyone involved. As a part of the hospital, Patterson has undergone all of the training required to be part of a hospital system with all the privacy rules that we have. As a result, he was able to actually witness in real time what we needed in a bustling pediatric Hemophilia clinic. This guided the design of the whole system into a meaningful plug and play tool that is very approachable for the staff as we are dealing with nurses and physicians, not technology experts. Being practical is an essential part of the design that an outside design team wouldn't have understood because they wouldn't have been able to view the clinic in real time.

"We put the Science behind what we did because we didn’t just create a solution, we actually tested it"

Virtual Reality (VR) has been used as an effective tool in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mitigation of pain, and more, but its incorporation into clinical care faces barriers like the games requiring to be age appropriate, the difficulty of keeping the patient motionless, the need for integration in the care processes at the care clinic, and more. Upon encountering these problems, our team looked at them as opportunities to develop well designed, well executed and thoughtful implementations of new technology that helped turn tears into laughter for the patients. Our design team incorporated novel play control helping games get interactive and appealing to engage the patients.

In order to integrate the solution into the clinical workflow, a wireless remote control has been designed to put the clinician in control of the experience since they have the medical knowledge and experience to decide best when somebody needs more distraction or relaxation. In addition to being very easy to set up and deploy, the tool can also be personalized to adapt to every day changing scenarios at the hospital. The games have the high technical capability with versions that run on almost every platform. The ultimate goal would be to have our own proprietary hardware, but for now, Apple hardware is considered sufficient to run the games very well.

The patients and their families know and trust us, and upon being asked, they give really great feedback on our work. Our team meets every week to discuss what we are working on, like a headset design, in terms of what works and what isn't going to work. The team then rethinks and redesigns the unit accordingly, followed by rapid testing and eventual launch of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved a clinical trial of the design. We put the Science behind what we do because we didn’t just create a solution, we actually tested it.

At the National Hemophilia meeting this year, the National Hemophilia Foundation provided grant support to help pay for the development of our project at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We were able to present what we have done at the national meeting which was attended by a unique gathering of patients, families, Hemophilia providers and pharmaceutical industry representatives all in one place. The positive response we got from those people was overwhelming as we met nurses asking when they could get this solution for their clinics and families saying how much this could have helped a child of theirs.

In the coming years, we would like to take what we have done and benefit other patient populations within the healthcare system. It doesn't have to be strictly pediatric. Anyone interacting with healthcare can benefit from what we have done. The potential benefits of technology use in healthcare have been overlooked. Technology could help so many patients have better experiences and ideally improve patient outcome as well.With the aim to see this solution become as ubiquitous as televisions in hospital rooms, we are in the process of finding or making the right partners. We are motivated to see other ways to take our work to as many people as possible so that we can really help make the whole flow of medical care better.

Read Also

Designing the IT Organization for Service Management

Designing the IT Organization for Service Management

Michael Reagin, Corporate VP & CIO, Sentara Healthcare

"Developing in house solutions vs. 3rd party?"

Robert D. Budman, MD MBA CDI-P, CMIO, Piedmont Healthcare
Effective IT Service Desks Essential for Healthcare Operational Efficiency

Effective IT Service Desks Essential for Healthcare Operational Efficiency

Jim Giordano, President and CEO, CareTech Solutions