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New smartphone app helps introduce patients and families to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital

The Passport to UMMCH app helps to prepare kids for nine common procedures. It's available in five languages.
A new, staff-driven smartphone app helps kids and families prepare for their time at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

It happened more often than you would think, according to Amy Feeder and Aimee Nelson, Child-Family Life staff members at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

They would sit down with children who had arrived at the hospital for surgery that day, but the children often didn’t know why they were there.

There was usually a simple explanation. “Parents often don’t know what to say,” Nelson said. They’re not sure how to talk with their kids about the sensitive topic, and they don’t want to scare the children.

On the contrary, some kids really benefit from mentally preparing for their hospital experience, said Feeder, and they worry less when they know what to expect.

“They come through that door, and anxiety is already high,” she said. “How can we better prepare kids for what they’re going to experience? What tools can we put in the hands of our parents and caregivers to help them prepare children?”

That’s when Nelson saw the light bulb. What if there was a smartphone and tablet app that could help children and families become familiar with the hospital before they arrived and provide practical, age-appropriate information about what they’d experience there?

In March, the Child-Family Life team, led by Nelson and Feeder, launched “Passport to UMMCH,” a free program designed to do just that. The app includes virtual tours of every space in the hospital, from patient rooms to the cafeteria and gift shop; kid-friendly descriptions of nine common procedures; a list of what to bring to the hospital; and, most importantly, language for parents to use to help their children understand what they’ll be going through.

So far the free app, which is available in five languages, has been downloaded more than 200 times and used about 600 times. Feeder and Nelson say they’ve had a lot of positive feedback from kids, families, and caregivers alike. But perhaps parents are the most enthusiastic.

“They’re usually just blown away,” Feeder said.

Philanthropy, along with perseverance, made it all happen. The project was funded by proceeds from 2013’s Wine Women & Shoes event, grants from the Fairview Foundation and University of Minnesota Foundation, donated expertise from web application consulting firm Ackmann & Dickenson and Jim Bovin Photography, and other gifts to Child-Family Life.

Feeder and Nelson are already working on “phase II” for the app, which will incorporate an interactive scavenger hunt into the virtual tours of each floor of the hospital.

“It’s a really cool way for us to involve PT [physical therapy] and get kids out of bed,” Nelson said. “So it’s therapeutic as well.”

Look for the free Passport to UMMCH app in the iTunes and Google Play stores.