July 25, 2013

App helps children manage their health care routines

Adults have calendar applications on all their digital devices to remind them of appointments and what’s next on their agenda.

Adults have calendar applications on all their digital devices to remind them of appointments and what’s next on their agenda. Now, children who function well with schedules and routines for tasks have a new Vanderbilt-created app for that.

The iPad app, called MyRoutine, allows parents and providers to create visual stories to let children know what to expect during their daily schedule, helping to reduce anxieties and provide structure. A doctor’s appointment or routines like bedtime can be turned into a series of tasks, using the iPad’s camera to take photos or video of each step. The app, free for a limited time, is available in iTunes for the iPad.

MyRoutine was created for medical providers and families in collaboration with developmental medicine specialists at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The Center for Child Development plans to use the app in clinic for patient appointments.

The center primarily sees children ages 18 months to 14 years for concerns of developmental delay.

“The app has been designed keeping children with special needs in mind, but even typically developing children could benefit from this,” said Niru Madduri, M.D., clinical director for the Center for Child Development. “A lot of these children respond to using the iPad. It’s made an impact on how they learn skills. When children know they get something out of it, they are more likely to complete the tasks.”

Currently, the center uses a hardcopy storyboard filled with photos and words that offer a short narrative for patients about a clinic visit. The patient checks in; sits in the waiting room; a nurse calls the patient’s name; height and weight are measured; and so on. Each photo depicts a step or task to be completed.

That hardcopy communication tool served as the impetus and inspiration for the iPad app. The child becomes an active participant with both tools and is able to move a photo with the storyboard or press an icon on the iPad to show a task has been completed.

Visual support tools, commonplace in education for years, are growing in popularity in other settings because of their effectiveness, says David Crnobori, M.S.Ed., behavior consultant in Children’s Hospital’s Center for Child Development.

“Children, especially those with developing language skills, tend to be visual learners,” said Crnobori. “Since implementing these visual tools in the clinic, we’ve seen a decrease in patient anxiety. This has allowed for more effective evaluations and has created a more pleasant experience for the patients and their families.”

The MyRoutine app comes with a photo gallery of children going through a routine check-up at the doctor’s office. Families or their doctor may use these photos to create a story and help the child’s next office visit go smoothly. The child can tap the photos for a reward sound, and parents and providers can also record their own sounds.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s interactive and Web development team has previously produced several other apps, including BabyTime for expectant mothers in labor and CoachSmart for athletes and coaches to track hazardous weather conditions.