Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s our surgical superhero! 

12/10/2017 00:00 
Surgery may become a little less daunting for young patients at University College Hospital with the help of bold and bright superhero gowns and virtual reality headsets.

The innovative accessories were created to help youngsters face their fears and soar into surgery with confidence and will be tested with young patients in the coming months.

Viki Mitchell, divisional clinical director for theatres and anaesthesia, said: “We are always striving to make hospital a less anxious environment for our young patients and we are delighted to be trying out these new fun designs. Distraction therapies, a bright environment and well equipped play rooms can really help put patients at their ease and help them recover faster.”
Children aged between two and six years will be offered gowns in the style of superheroes, featuring a detachable cape which transforms into a comfort blanket. Designed by Brunel University London student Sophie Copley and her supervisor Paul Turnock, they form part of a series of innovations conceived, developed and tested by UCL doctoral student Dr Chris Evans as part of his Little Sparks Hospital research.

“For a child, the hospital experience can be confusing and scary,” says Chris, who is also an anaesthetic trainee. “It starts when they turn up to a bustling hospital ward with lots of funnily-dressed people running around, all before 8am and on an empty stomach.

“Children are given an uninspiring hospital gown and wristbands to put on, neither of which they want to. They’re then whisked away to another room with even more people, all asking their name and date of birth, before having a mask put on their face. Next thing they know they’re waking up in the recovery room! You can understand why a child might feel anxious, and a sense of loss of control.”

The design team worked with children, parents and hospital staff to create the perfect design.

Children said they wanted an up-to-date gown they could relate to; staff wanted improved access to key parts of their patient’s bodies; and everyone wanted improved patient dignity and comfort.

“Giving young children the opportunity to become a superhero encourages them to feel empowered, strong and able to fight their fears on the day of their operation,” explains Sophie, a final-year BSc Product Design student. “It encourages play as a form of treatment.”

The superhero hospital gowns are practical as well as fun, and have been designed with comfort and cleanliness in mind.

Dr Evans has also created a virtual reality app enabling young patients to roam and ‘explore’ the hospital corridors, wards and theatres at University College Hospital – without moving from their seat. Using a smart phone app and a low-cost cardboard virtual reality headset, the children trigger animated characters to tell them about what they do, what happens on the day of their surgery and how they might feel. The app is used in the weeks leading up to their surgery, allowing children time to process the information provided and take the fear out of their hospital appointment.

The Little Journey app can be tailored to any NHS hospital for free, enabling children to familiarise themselves with the actual rooms they’ll see on the day of surgery – all from the comfort and safety of their own home. NHS Digital have created a short video explaining how the app works.

The design team, including supervisor Ramani Moonesinghe and animators Laura Henry, Flora Roumpani and Alexandros Bertzounis, worked with patients, teachers, GPs and the multidisciplinary team at UCLH.

Both innovations received funding from the Bloomsbury Innovation Group and UCLH Charity.

They were unveiled this week during National Play in Hospital Week.

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