VR technology allaying fears and worries

Inselspital Bern – Virtual Reality-App «kinderinsel» helps children get ready for hospital and surgery

For the «kinderinsel» app, nexum has teamed up with the University Hospital for Paediatric Surgery of the Inselspital Bern to develop a virtual reality solution that helps patients between the ages of five and 12 and their parents to prepare for planned surgery. A smartphone and a pair of cardboard glasses are all that is needed to dive into the virtual world of the hospital.

The Challenge

As a centre of medical competence, expertise, and cutting-edge technology of international standing, the Inselspital Bern plays a prominent role in the healthcare system of Switzerland.

More than half of all children coming into hospital for surgery are known to suffer from fears and anxieties that can have a measurable and markedly negative effect on post-surgery recovery. Children’s fear of hospitals is a phenomenon encountered by healthcare professionals worldwide.

The University Hospital for Paediatric Surgery looked for an innovative, child-friendly, and usable solution to combat these fears with the aid of virtual reality.

Our Solution

The VR app designed by nexum employs a combined exploratory and narrative didactic approach. Its users have three chapters to discover: an immersive VR story, an interactive operating theatre, and a 360° video tour.

The young users are accompanied through the entire app by the lovable «kinderinsel» penguin «Kimi», who appears regularly in the story and explains everything the children want to know about the surgery they may be facing.

What we did

nexum designed and developed the innovative virtual reality app in several important stages:

  • Conducting a focus group session with children aged between five and ten (with and without experience of hospitals) and a parent to get a better sense for what the young users expect from a VR app and why and how hospitals can be a scary place for them (also recruiting this challenging target group via nexum’s strong digital channels)
  • Deciding the concept: Preparing a storyboard, defining and collecting the contents and relevant facts, designing the content architecture, drafting texts, and recording the narration
  • Developing the VR user experience and navigation concept for the virtual reality solution
  • Designing, creating, and animating a crew of 3D protagonists (penguin, child, parents, various medical professionals etc.)
  • Programming and implementing the app with the Unreal VR development environment
Introducing the «kinderinsel» VR app

Three chapters for braver patients

  • Chapter 1: An immersive story: The story takes the user along on the hospital journey of another child, from coming into the hospital to the surgery and on, until it is time to go home, with child-friendly illustrations explaining what happens in the three most common types of surgery.
  • Chapter 2: An interactive operating theatre: With the app, the young patients have a unique opportunity: To move around and interact with a virtual operating theatre and to have the equipment in it explained to them.
  • Chapter 3: 360° video tour: The app gives its young users an chance to go behind the curtains and explore the hospital in 360° tours of the operating theatre, a typical patient’s room, the reception and many other exciting locations to get familiar and comfortable with the real situation in the hospital.

Creating parent – child teams with smartphone mirroring

Even though the VR app is meant primarily for child users, it explicitly includes parents in the process of preparing for surgery. One key feature of this is the unique mirroring function developed by nexum itself that allows parents to watch on a second smartphone what their children are seeing, doing, and experience in the virtual world. This invaluable feature also enables the parents of the youngest patients to help their children navigate the app.

How we did it

Prestudy

The conceptual development of the «kinderinsel» app deliberately did not focus on the technical details of the virtual reality solution, but on the issue it is here to address: the fear of hospitals.We engaged in detailed international research to understand the current knowledge and science about the issue: Where does the fear of hospitals come from? How does it express itself? How do children cope with it? Which technological or non-technological ideas have been tried to combat it? By asking these questions, a didactic concept was formed to serve as the basis for the solution.The assumptions gained in this first step were then tested and explored in half-day focus group workshops, deliberated designed to be as playful as possible for the target audience: children (with and without personal experience of surgery), accompanied by a parent each, were asked about their fears and anxieties in general and specifically relating to hospitals and surgery. The workshop also allowed the participants to contribute their ideas for the app in the form of drawings and stories.

Concept and Design

The insights gained from our pre-studies and focus group workshops slowly came together to form the conceptual framework for the VR app, the navigation concept, the user experience, and the actual contents of each chapter of the app.Work also progressed on the visual design of the solution. In several stages, the user interface gained its final look and feel, accompanied by a physical on-boarding package that includes cardboard glasses, a pet penguin, an explanatory flyer, and the lovingly designed «kinderinsel». At the same time, the many 3D protagonists, including «Kimi» the penguin, evolved from a first sketch drawing to finished animated models.

VR Implementation

The virtual reality app was programmed and realized by means of the Unreal VR development platform.This facilitated the complex and sophisticated animation of the VR characters, the design of a child and user-friendly navigation menu, the creation of virtual rooms like the interactive operating theatre, and the layout of the many locations discovered by the user in the immersive story – the heart of the «kinderinsel». nexum also produced the smartphone app for both Android and iOS that is needed to delve into the virtual reality environment. It is available as a free download from the Apple and Android app stores in Switzerland.

The Client

With this app at their fingertips, our young patients and their parents can discover our hospital and what goes on in it from the comfort of their homes. nexum has opened the doors to the Inselspital – and we thank them for it!

Catharina Bucher Anliker, Hospital manager, Paediatric Surgery Hospital, Inselspital Bern

Used technologies
Unity
Blender
Your contact person
Nicola Schlup

Nicola Schlup

Managing Director nexum Schweiz, Executive Director Delivery

Download and get started

The bilingual app "Kinderinsel" is available for the general population and not only for patients of the Insel Gruppe. The app is now available free of charge for iOS and Android:

iOS: https://apps.apple.com/ch/app/kinderinsel/id1457434533

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ch.nexum.missionOP&hl=de