UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has a new teaching tool designed especially for children who need proton therapy, an advanced type of radiation treatment for cancer. Proton U is a customized app designed to aid children before proton therapy begins by familiarizing them with what to expect during treatment.
Children are often anxious and fearful of the unknown when it comes to their medical treatment. Studies show that we can reduce anxiety and teach coping skills to children through medical play, hands-on learning and pre-treatment tours. The app is a unique way to combine children’s natural curiosity and technology to improve the medical treatment experience.
“We have had tremendous success with our child life program over the last six years, reducing the number of children between ages 5-7 who need daily sedation for treatment by 40 percent,” said Danny Indelicato, MD, Director of Pediatric Radiotherapy, UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, and Associate Professor, UF Department of Radiation Oncology. “Thanks to Kim Todd, Child Life Specialist, and the collaboration of Flagler College and the UF Department of Biomedical Engineering, we think the app will help us further reduce the number of children needing sedation. It will also serve as an educational introduction to proton therapy for all our young children, something they can download and review even before they travel to Jacksonville. We have also created Spanish and Norwegian language versions.”
Kim had the idea to develop an app for the iPad that patients could use with her during sessions and on their own at home. She contacted her alma mater, Flagler College, to ask for help, and they agreed to take on the project as a community service. More than 30 Flagler College students designed the graphic art for the interactive game/storybook written by Kim. Students volunteered to be the recorded voices of Jefferson, the Proton U mascot, and various medical team characters introduced throughout the game.
A UF Health Proton Therapy Institute patient with Microsoft contacts connected Kim with a programmer who initiated the app’s development, and a UF engineering faculty member Stephen Arce, PhD, programmed Proton U with music and animation features that brought the app to life. “I have been programming software and games for several years in my spare time, and this is a great opportunity to help do something bigger,” said Arce. “Making apps for kids to introduce and educate them about therapy is one part of the role software can play in medicine in the future. As devices get ‘smarter,’ we will see more emphasis on interactive software to help patients learn/participate and give physicians better information. There is also an opportunity for big data sciences as we collect and analyze statistics about patient care and move toward a quality-based healthcare system.”
The app design was recognized by the Florida Campus Compact Awards, winning second place in the statewide 2015 Campus Community Partnership category. The Florida Campus Compact is a network of about 60 colleges and universities in Florida who are committed to community service that enhances students’ education, workforce readiness and civic mindedness. The app design made the shortlist for an international recognition by the Interaction Design Association in its “Empowering” category for “helping people to do things they otherwise couldn’t do.”