General anesthesia is a serious procedure. It requires the staff to be professional and the parents to be brave. Unfortunately, the child is required to be both. General anesthesia is usually needed before surgery and certain types of examinations. It can be performed in two ways: either via intravenous injection or with anesthetic gas through a mask. Sometimes, using the mask is the only option. Using the mask can be uncomfortable for adults, but for the child it can be terrifying.
For the sedation to be successful the patient has to breathe through a tightly sealed mask for up to several minutes. The mask makes breathing hard and the smell of sedation gas is unpleasant. Many times this causes the child to panic, making the procedure even longer.
Today, doctors try to calm the child in several ways, but there are no dedicated systems for doing this. The main approach is to distract the children with toys or to engage them with feedback from their own bodies, such as hart rate monitors and breathing apparatus. Often, these tricks help children to divert their focus away from the unpleasant aspects of the procedure.
Considering these factors, a friendlier approach has been developed. ANNA is a breathing assistant that helps the child to remain calm and breathe properly. It is simple to understand and easy to engage with. ANNA makes it fun to achieve an optimal breathing technique. It calms the child and speeds up the sedation process benefiting everyone that’s involved.
ANNA was a two week collaboration project between two Master programs at Umea University: MA Interaction Design and MA Advanced Product Design. The goal of the project was to explore light and sound as problem solving tools in the healthcare sector. The chosen area was general anesthesia for children.
The main research was based on collaboration with the University Hospital of Umea. Design students and professionals from the hospital explored the problem area together. A full journey of the patient’s experience was examined, covering the moment the patients entered the hospital to the time they left. To get a better understanding of what the patients were going through, we simulated the procedures from the stakeholder’s perspectives, which was the experience of the parents, doctors and most important, the kids.
General anesthesia is not a pleasant experience and follows the same basic procedure regardless of the patient’s age. Adults can find it unpleasant, but for kids, the experience can be terrifying as they are more sensitive and do not always understand why they have to go through a frightening process. For children, the hospital environment feels hostile. Doctors are strangers they’ve never met before, procedure rooms are unfriendly and medical equipment make strange noises.
They have to change clothes, lie down and breathe through a tight mask for up to several minutes. Breathing is harder and the smell of the sedation gas can be very unpleasant. The mask has to be pushed hard onto the face to ensure a good connection. The child often gets scared and sometimes panics, which makes the procedure longer as they are not breathing properly. The main problem was how to ensure that the child didn’t feel stressed and maintained a deep and slow breathing during the procedure.
The stressful experience also affected the parents and the doctors. Parents felt bad and guilty for putting their kids through a bad experience. As a result, overall satisfaction dropped. As for doctors, a high level of social skills was needed to work with children that were stressed. Doctors had to gain their trust and calm them down to be able to go on with the procedure.
For the staff it was hard to divide the attention on multiple tasks and still be able to focus on their primary duties. Systemwise there hasn’t been much done to make their work easier. Doctors often try to improvise in different ways. One way was to distract the kids by giving them toys to play with while the gas was inhaled. Another approach was to engage the child in the procedure by showing them their heart rate and breathing levels on a monitor. This helped kids forget about the unpleasant factors as they became more engaged with the given task.
Considering results from user testing and feedback from professionals, a kid friendly approach has been developed. The idea was built on top of the principles that the doctors used when they worked with children. The goal was to help the young patients to breathe in a more fun and engaging way.
The solution, ANNA, shows how you breathe and assists you to optimally inhale and exhale slower and deeper. It is beneficial, as it not only calms the user down but also speeds up the sedation process. With ANNA, the user can prepare for the procedure by practicing breathing before the operation at home or in the preparation room. This way, they become familiar with the mask breathing technique and will therefore not be unpleasantly surprised when the actual sedation procedure begins.
To ease the transition, sounds and visual DNA from the procedure room has been implemented in the design of ANNA. ANNA uses light movement and sounds to communicate with the user. It is simple and easy to understand regardless of age or language skills.
Although ANNA is a small part of the anesthesia process, it improves user experience in many levels. For kids it helps them go through a scary procedure in a fun and engaging way. Not being afraid is important, as in the long run it helps to associate hospitals with something good rather than scary. Parents can be ensured that their kids are in good hands as the doctors finally can be fully focused on their main duties.
Well designed design and technical implementation
It creates a great visualization that's designed to make it much more calming.
We really liked this project because of the emotional impact that comes from a well designed design and technical implementation...It actually considers all actors involved in the system, from the actual doctors to the patients and parents.