Innovative children’s hospital app transforms patient care

Young patients having procedures in hospital report feeling less anxious after using the new Alder Play App. Accessed by children and young people before, during and after their hospital visit, the digital app uses gaming and augmented reality to help users to gain a better understanding of their care.

Digitalised services are helping give children the best start in life. Five years ago, seven-year-old patient Niamh Barnes suggested to hospital staff at Alder Hey Children’s hospital the idea for an App that would help reduce her anxiety and distract children like her while they were in hospital.

With this insight, a new approach to children’s stay in hospital was launched to help improve patient care. The Alder Play App uses gaming and augmented reality to help young patients having procedures in hospital to feel less anxious and worried about their time in hospital. The App allows young patients to choose and name their own “buddy”, which helps them understand their hospital visit before they arrive, and helps to keep them calm and less anxious during their stay.  Their buddy ‘pops up’ at various hospital locations during their visit and they can collect ‘rewards’ following procedures, which then allows them to access new content. Rewards can be given for something as simple as having a dressing changed, to getting out of bed after an operation or having a scan.

Integral to Alder Play’s design and development has been the opinions and views of children and young people. Niamh said “It’s exciting to see the App coming to life and providing entertainment for other children like me. I really like the ‘Ask Oli’ page which is really helpful and means kids and parents can ask questions about their stay in hospital.”

Also within Alder Play, parents can interact with a chatbot called “Ask Oli” to ask questions about the hospital and what may happen to their child. The Innovation Team at Alder Hey has been working with the Hartree Centre (part of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council ), using IBM’s Watson technology to enable questions to be answered in real time. This is the first time cognitive technologies have been applied in any hospital in the UK, in this way.

Alder Play is now being used across Alder Hey with an evaluation taking place in partnership with the University of Liverpool.  Feedback from children, families and staff has been very positive and we have plans to add new content based on feedback received from our stakeholders Alder Play is being supported through the global digital exemplar programme with funding being provided by Alder Hey Children’s Charity, Shop Direct, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, NHS Digital and Fidelity UK Foundation. Alder Play has only been possible through a collaboration of expertise from the health, retail, travel and technology sectors.

For further information, please contact Tricia Roberts, Head of Alder Play Development,