Virtual reality tool lets kids voyage through their own bodies

HealthVoyager - stomach
Traditionally, doctors share the findings of invasive tests using printouts that are highly text-based and filled with medical jargon. Some may have static thumbnail illustrations, but all in all they’re not especially patient friendly.

Michael Docktor, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, believed that if kids could really “see” inside themselves, they would have a better understanding of their disease and be more engaged in their treatment.

He connected with Klick Health, a health marketing and commercialization agency that develops digital solutions. Together, they created an entertaining “virtual reality” educational experience. It allows the physician to easily recreate a patient’s actual endoscopic procedure, and, like the Magic School Bus, enables kids to virtually tour their own bodies.

Boston Children’s and Klick Health officially unveiled the iPhone-friendly VR tool, called HealthVoyagerTM, in New York today.

“Hospitals have started using VR in healthcare, most notably, to distract hospital patients as part of pain management,” says Yan Fossat, VP of Klick Labs at Klick Health and project lead. “That’s important but it’s only scratching the surface of what’s possible in patient care.”

The tool’s first iteration, HealthVoyager GI, is designed for pediatric gastroenterology patients. Docktor, who is also Clinical Director of Innovation at Boston Children’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator, hopes to eventually expand to other parts of the body and other procedures.

Going inside

Melissa Devlin’s 9-year-old daughter Maeve has ulcerative colitis and recently tried out HealthVoyager GI, pre-loaded with the results of her endoscopy.

“It’s intuitive and will help kids understand what’s happening inside of them — help them really experience it,” Devlin says. “You can click on a polyp, or an area of inflammation, and get more information. Having this tool might help my daughter explain to friends and family who don’t quite understand her disease.”

HealthVoyager descending colon

HealthVoyager is HIPAA-compliant and is being developed to be compatible with a hospital’s electronic medical record system. Boston Children’s Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein, PhD, sees it as a natural extension of precision medicine.

“When you think about the care path of a patient journey, every aspect of that journey can be customized, including education,” he says.

Creating a personalized journey

The physician inputs the clinical findings of a patient’s endoscopy or colonoscopy into a web interface with digital illustrations of the upper and lower GI tract, inserting polyps, ulcers, areas of bleeding and other test findings with a simple “drag and drop” operation. A customized 3D virtual reality experience can then be generated with a click.

HealthVoyager physician interface

Patients and families begin their journey by scanning a QR code on their iOS device (Android compatibility in the works). After creating an avatar, children can put on virtual reality glasses or a VR headset and click to start their tour, choosing what area they want to see. As they travel through their GI tract in 3D, they see an accurate depiction of what their doctor saw during their procedure. For added context, they can compare what they see with the GI tract of a healthy person.

HealthVoyager - patient interface

Owning your disease

Boston Children’s is evaluating HealthVoyager’s effects on patient and family understanding, engagement and satisfaction in a clinical study. Docktor believes that being able to visualize and understand their disease will encourage children to communicate about their symptoms — and, he hopes, be more adherent to their therapies.

Devlin thinks the tool could help children take “ownership” of their medical condition and treatment.

“Part of ownership is really understanding something well,” says Devin. “I think this tool may help kids really put it all together and say, ‘this is for my health.’”

For more, visit the HealthVoyager website or email  More coverage in Fast Company, MM&M, and MobiHealth News.