iPad App Helps Kids Make Their Own Decision On Appendicitis Treatment

A new iPad app, co-created by Clutch Interactive in conjunction with Nationwide Children’s hospital, uses avatars and green screens to help children and their parents to make life-changing decisions on treatment options. Is this the future for apps in healthcare? Ayesha Salim speaks to Clutch Interactive, the co-developers of this app, to find out more.

“Information is power right, if you understand what you are dealing with, you are better able to manage your health and manage the treatment options that are available to you – making an educated decision,” says  Nancy Cloutier, Executive Director at Clutch Interactive. I am speaking to her on the phone from her office in Columbus, Ohio about a new iPad app that will guide parents and their children in choosing a treatment option for appendicitis.

Cloutier has a point. An increasing number of patients are using mobile applications to monitor or improve their health. Many come to their physician with pre-collected information and a large number of physicians are supporting this idea. Smartphones are helping patients monitor their exercise and reminding them to take their medications.  The sheer number of patients educating themselves in their own healthcare has never been higher.

The app is not actually in existence yet. A proof of concept has been developed for the partners at Nationwide Children’s hospital as part of a research project. The doctors piloting the project are a husband and wife team who both work within the ER. They want to test how patients absorb information digitally in a healthcare setting, and how using common digital interfaces, like an iPad app can improve the ability of children and parents to make treatment decisions.

New research by Nationwide Children’s hospital has shown that many of the cases of appendicitis can be treated using antibiotics alone. The hope is that the app will help potentially limit the number of appendectomies performed annually nationwide.

ICC’s Clutch Interactive are experts in interactive experiences, and together with Soul Theater Productions have been working with Nationwide Children’s hospital to bring this project to life. So how have Clutch Interactive gone about creating this unique visual experience?   

I ask them to talk me through the concept of this app:

“The purpose of the app is twofold. On the one hand, there is research being done into the accessibility and the use of the digital medium in the emergency room, and the other is exploring the ability for that medium to aid the parents, specifically in their decision-making around how the ailments the child has entered the hospital with should be treated,” says Kyle Meadows, Director of User Experience and Design at Clutch Interactive.

“The purpose of the application is to provide a unique experience for both the parent and the child, to educate them about the procedures, and the various experiences they might have in entering the hospital for treatment,” Meadows says.

Appendicitis Starting a Trend That Could Lead to Other Ailments

Is there a particular reason for choosing appendicitis for this study? “Appendicitis is one of the most major and common ailments that a young child will enter the emergency room for…because of that it offers a very good control room for collecting information,” Meadows says. “The circumstances surrounding appendicitis are going to be relatively common – which makes for really great data gathering.”

The most common treatment for dealing with a case of appendicitis is an operation to remove the appendix. But there have been new developments. “There has been more research that involves drug therapy to actually treat appendicitis,” adds Meadows. “Because of this, and the size and weight of that decision - the doctors that have put together the grant decided this will be the perfect circumstance to test their ideas within the emergency room.”

Speaking to 4 Year Olds & Adults Together

The app will feature a few different tiers. Users engaging with the app will learn about their treatment options as well as contributing data to the study. Doctors and clinicians will be able to access this information to see how well the app is being received in real-time.

With so many layers to it the app strikes me as quite complex. How are they going to deal with the challenges of gathering and presenting the data? Meadows admits that there will be challenges in trying to “pin down what is going to be useful versus not useful data.” But he stresses that their main focus will be to ensure that the data collected will be “viable to the clinicians and will really further their goals in terms of research for the future.”

The user experience of the app is where it gets really interesting. It seems that almost every aspect of engaging the child and parent has been thought of and utilized. “The parent and child will sit down and will be walked through a series of informational videos and be asked questions about what they have seen to basically ensure there is an understanding of the various treatment options that are being made available to them,” Meadows says.

What strikes me as particularly interesting is that the developers have put a lot of thought into engaging the child and parent together. As Meadows points out, “What a child pays attention to versus what a parent will pay attention to are two very different things.” But the developers have taken note of this and done something about it.

“Avatars will be used to engage the parent and child on the same level and at the same time to gather information about their experiences and be parallel with one another,” Meadows says. “The core age group of the study is approximately between the ages of 3 and, technically, 18…now, that said, I believe that the age of appendicitis tends to drop off rather sharply once you get into the mid-teens. So the app will be more geared between the ages of 4 to 14 year olds or so,” Meadows adds.

I ask what tools have been used to engage the parent and child together:

“Some of the videos will be shot in green screen with motion graphics, and other layers of information will be presented along with live interviews with actual caregivers and doctors from the ER. All of these things will be strung together along with questions and feedback mechanisms that the researchers will need for this to be successful,” Meadows says.

The Future of Healthcare

Talking to Kyle and Nancy has got me thinking. At the moment the researchers are piloting this with appendicitis. What about other medical ailments? Is this app suitable? “The system of the experience that is being developed for this pilot project can apply to any number of ailments that a child will be admitted to the hospital for,” Meadows says.

As we come to the end of our talk, I want to know Kyle and Nancy’s thoughts on how they see this app fitting into the future of healthcare. There have been rumblings in the healthcare community about digital devices distracting doctors from their patients. What are their thoughts on this?

Cloutier admits, “There is the possibility of doing too much from a mobile experience perspective that will take away from the relationship.” But she goes on to say that “the goal is not to do that – success really comes in balancing the two.”

“I think that…maybe not just for this app but in general, success is defined as the mobile application or the technology selected to enable a better dialogue between the patient and the physician – it doesn’t take anything away from the relationship with the physician and that is important. Success is supporting the patient and physician and enhancing the dialogue - and the visual aspect of it is ensuring that we can, as human beings, understand what is being communicated to us in a difficult situation where we need to be educated,” Cloutier says.

If the app is successful – where do you see it going in healthcare? “There is certainly lots of research to be done and it’s definitely going to open up a number of avenues,” Meadows says.

“I think the end hope will be that the application becomes, or this type of application, becomes the future benchmark for these kinds of experiences,” Meadows adds.

I think so too.


For more information on the impact of consumer technology on healthcare, download this report


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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