A UK hospital has launched a new iPhone and Android app that combines gaming, augmented reality and cognitive computing to help young patients and their parents.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital’s Alder Play app allows patients to choose and name an avatar that helps them understand their hospital visit before they arrive for a procedure and then helps calm them during their stay.

Their avatar ‘appears’ at various hospital locations during their visit and helps patients collect rewards following procedures, with the rewards allowing them to access new content.

Alder Hey Consultant Nik Barnes, who came up with the idea for Alder Play, said: “Our vision is to transform the experience of children in hospital. We wanted to distract patients during procedures, and reduce their worries and fears.

“Rewarding children following procedures and treatments was another vital element as it helps to encourage their progress. Rewards can be given for something as simple as having a dressing changed, to getting out of bed after an operation or having a scan.”

Alder Play also offers parents access to a chatbot called Ask Oli to ask questions about the hospital and what may happen to their child.

Alder Hey, which has been using IBM’s Watson technology for this aspect of the work to enable questions to be answered in real time, said the app is the first time cognitive technologies have been applied in any hospital in the UK in this way.

The Alder Hey app is being supported through the global digital exemplar programme with funding being provided by Alder Hey Children’s Charity, Shop Direct, Liverpool John Lennon Airport and NHS England.

NHS England’s chief clinical information officer for health and care Professor Keith McNeil said: “This is a great example of innovative digital technology being applied to solve a real world problem for children, young people and their parents receiving care in today’s NHS. It looks great fun too!”

Developed with digital studio ustwo and supported by NHS England and NHS Digital, Alder Hey hopes other NHS hospitals will find its app useful.