Kid-calming virtual squirrel a ‘hospital pal’ for little patients at Surrey Memorial’s Children’s Health Centre

Augmented reality app helps allay some of the fears and apprehensions youngsters may associate with a visit to the hospital

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Meet Chip, the virtual squirrel who guides youngsters through their admittance, surgery and discharge from the Children’s Health Centre at Surrey Memorial.

“Chip will officially be on staff (shortly),” said Jane Adams, president and CEO of Surrey Hospitals Foundation, which funded 40 per cent of the renovations to the Children’s Health Centre. “He’s a vivid, little chirpy squirrel.”

Five years ago, the foundation decided to fund roughly 40 per cent of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s planned renovation and overhaul of the Children’s Health Centre. While planning was underway for that, Dr. Amir Behboudi, an ER pediatric surgeon with Fraser Health, was using goggles and videos to distract his young patients.

He was working on the project with Microsoft’s mixed reality studio in Seattle, which developed videos of things such as roller-coaster rides, age-appropriate themes that would engross their little viewers while stitches are applied to the face or whatever procedure they are there for.


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“It calmed the children, they didn’t express as much pain, he had success with that,” Adams said.

Then Behboudi took his young family to a Great Wolf Lodge theme park, and noticed kids were kept busy with virtual games such as hide-n-seek.

“Dr. Behboudi got inspired and thought, ‘What if we could make hospital a less terrifying and more engaging place for children,’ ” Adams said. “They wouldn’t be as frightened, and probably the outcomes would be better.”

That’s when he approached the foundation.

“We thought it was fabulous, and it was perfect timing because we were completely renovated the Children’s Health Centre,” Adams said.

The renovation was woodland themed and all the art and colours were tested with families and children. One of the favourite little characters was a squirrel, and Microsoft took that and created Chip.

When the 1,200 children who are treated at Surrey every year aim their phone at one of three acorns spaced around the hospital, Chip greets them and, depending on where they are, welcomes them, helps calm them pre-surgery and wishes them well upon discharge.

“He walks them through some of the things they have to do,” Adams said. Things like getting a bracelet, things like taking off their clothes and putting on a hospital gown.

“That can often be quite frightening for children,” Adams said. “When you think about it, our clothes are familiar, they are kind of our armour, our protection against the world.


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“Little Chip takes them through this, it helps demystify the whole process and just creates the feeling that this is a fun place, a happy place where good things happen.”

The mobile app, called My Hospital Pal, is the first of its kind in Canada, Adams said.

“We’ve all seen the tremendous success and popularity of the augmented reality video game Pokémon Go, so when the opportunity came up to leverage the technological innovation and power of AR in our Children’s Health Centre, we leapt at the chance,” she said.

For now, Chip will guide children coming into the ambulatory surgical day-care department, but the hospital is already looking at how the virtual squirrel could help out in other areas such as in-patient care.

Through the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, donors raised $6 million to renovate the Children’s Health Centre, adding a new pre-and-post surgery unit, a renewed cancer treatment space for kids and boosting to 15 the rooms for outpatient clinics.

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