Nova Scotia

IWK using iPads to help distract sick kids

The IWK Health Centre in Halifax is handing out tablet computers to keep children amused and tell triage teams how the kids are feeling.

App amuses kids and gives triage team info

Children can report their pain level by clicking on a happy, sad, anxious, miserable face. (Courtesy IWK)

Kids used to look forward to a lollipop or popsicle after a trip to the doctor, but the emergency department at
the IWK Health Centre has upped the ante.  

They are giving kids iPad minis. No, they can't keep them, but they sure help to while away the hours waiting to see a doctor.  

They are also helping the emergency staff keep tabs on a child's condition in the ER waiting room.

The iCare Adventure app has been designed to offer a choice of amusing but informative videos starring the IWK clown, Buddington, who learns some valuable lessons about why cuts bleed, how bones mend and what is snot. 

Children can also create a personalized cartoon character who flies around the world on a magic carpet. And while they are doing that, they get messages to remind them to drink their Pedialyte (if they are dehydrated) or report their pain level by clicking on a happy, sad, anxious, miserable face.

The app was designed by a Halifax computer programmer, Andy Wilcox, who knows what it's like to sit for hours with a sick or injured child.

The project is led by Dr. Brett Taylor, a pediatric emergency specialist.

"You can imagine on a Friday evening when there are 30 people in that waiting room and 10 people waiting to be triaged. Kids will spend hours and hours and hours in the waiting room and they don't get as good counselling and care in the waiting room as we would like," he said.

Taylor says iPads allow staff to better gauge symptoms even before the child sees a doctor.

The doctor says they've had to ditch the toys in the ER because they carry germs, but iPads are easy to wipe down.

The app is actually the brain child of two women who don't even work in health care, Donna Thompson and Paula Cook MacKinnon.

They wanted to see how technology could improve the hospital experience for children.

Isabelle Wong, 7, gives the review the thumbs up.

"It kept me from wondering what was going to happen," she said after her ER visit.

Those involved hope the combined impact of the program will keep kids relaxed and speed up the delivery of care by making better use of the time spent in an emergency department waiting room.

Perhaps unfortunately for the patients, they have to hand back the tablet before they head home.

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