How Phoenix Children’s uses iPads to deliver patient entertainment, education in one package

By Jonah Comstock
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The old model of patient entertainment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital was a TV in every room, and the old method of patient education was a DVD cart wheeled from room to room. But for the last two years, the hospital has replaced both with an iPad system that offers both entertainment and education to its young patients.
 
“We put this TV out there and said, that’s going to take care of entertaining these patients,” David Higgenson, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, said in a presentation at the Digital and Personal Connected Health event Monday at HIMSS18. “Well, we haven’t had cable in our house for years, and my daughter wouldn’t know how to use it. … Patients get frustrated because they can’t have the Netflix-like experience. Kids are used to, and patients are used to, a different experience.”
 
TV is a poor choice for patient entertainment because pediatric patients don’t often have two uninterrupted hours to watch a movie they can’t pause; instead, they’re frequently interrupted for tests and check-ins by nurses. Streaming entertainment is a better fit.
 
And offering movies and games to patients on the iPad has also given Phoenix Children’s a vector to deliver educational information.
 
“We make little short vignettes about safety and education, just a minute or two long, and we won’t let them watch the movie until they watch it,” Higginson said.
 
Just like movies don’t fit into the patient lifestyle, a one-time viewing of a DVD doesn’t fit well either, Higginson said.
 
“What we found over and over again, with a family with a new disease, is they want to absorb that in their own time, in their own way, many, many times,” he said. “We find patients watching the same small piece of content over and over as they’re ready to absorb different parts.”
 
Finally, they’ve recently implemented a feature that lets patients order food from the iPad. It’s tuned to each patient’s specific diet and allergies, so they’ll only see foods they can eat.
 
There were a lot of challenges in deploying the tablet system, including securing the devices, making sure they displayed only age-appropriate content, and incorporating parental controls so that parents who are concerned about children’s screen time have some say over it.
 
But Phoenix has worked out these hurdles and has had these tablets deployed to 400 patients for the last two years.
 
“Our goal in this connected opportunity is not only to connect patients back to what’s going on in the hospital, but connect them in their outside social experience,” Higginson said.

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