Chris Evans, CEO and co-founder of Little Journey, explains why Little Journey was set up, how it works, and what’s coming next for the company.
Coming to hospital is scary for children. As a parent and a clinician, I have witnessed first-hand the fear and distress experienced by children attending for even routine healthcare interactions. Not only does this result in poor patient experiences and outcomes, but it also causes significant cost implications for healthcare organisations.
This is why I partnered with Sophie Copley, an expert in human-centred product design, to create Little Journey – a digital eSupport platform designed to prepare, support and inform children and families before, during and after healthcare interactions, all from the comfort and safety of their own home.
How does Little Journey work?
At Little Journey, we believe in the power of familiarisation and desensitisation through immersive play to reduce healthcare-induced anxiety, facilitate individual coping strategy development and improve patient experiences and outcomes. Our smartphone app, co-created with families, delivers engaging, interactive content tailored to the child’s age, procedure type and local hospital. This includes virtual tours, relaxation animations, and therapeutic and distraction games, plus a caregiver section containing accessible information articles, hospital guides, reminders, checklists and guidelines. The innovative Little Journey web portal enables organisations to configure app content to their local policies and patient pathways, including the uploading of 360-degree images of the actual rooms families will visit for use in the virtual tours.
Little Journey is currently configured to over 50 NHS trusts plus several international hospitals. In 2021 the company was licensed by a global contract research organisation to support children participating in an international paediatric research trial involving multiple procedures and site visits; this resulted in the development of a gamified medication monitor designed to improve adherence to prescribed medication. The platform now supports a variety of procedures (surgery, endoscopy, covid swab testing, phlebotomy) with more in creation (MRI, ITU, NICU and mental health) and has been translated into 16 languages.
Little Journey has proven effective in reducing anxiety (previous study demonstrated 32% reduction in parent-reported levels of child anxiety following use of Little Journey) and in reducing costs – an independent health economic evaluation demonstrated cost benefits of £3.50 for every £1 invested in Little Journey plus a further £6 in societal benefits; this was realised through service efficiencies including a 42% reduction in on-the-day cancellations.
What next for Little Journey?
The Little Journey team is passionate about enabling all children to receive the peri-procedural preparation and support they deserve, mindful of variations in mental, physical and cognitive needs. Having been accepted onto Phase 2 of The LEGO Foundation Play for All Accelerator, we are currently collaborating with LEGO and NASEN (National Association for Special Educational Needs) to enhance our solution to provide tailored support for children with autism and ADHD.
We are also working on ways to use advanced data science on our ever-expanding data-set to provide a fully personalised solution and develop behaviour modification systems, for example, identifying those at risk of high levels of anxiety (and thus worse outcomes) and designing early intervention pathways to prevent this.
The future of digital health tech
The power of digital technology to transform healthcare is vast, with great potential to counter existing health inequalities (e.g. geographic disparities in access to care). However, we are mindful that companies providing digital tools have a moral and ethical duty to be aware of those at risk of being left behind: the digitally excluded. To this end, we are currently working on ways to improve our accessibility and inclusivity profile. In 2021 we partnered with NHS England to produce a range of resources including freely accessible online videos and printable leaflets explaining coronavirus and swab testing to children. We are now working on making more of our app content available via the web as well as developing non-digital activities and content to support families.
Peri-procedural anxiety results in poor patient experiences and outcomes, and costs huge amounts of money for both healthcare organisations and society. Addressing this problem, Little Journey aims to support all children, all across the world, to better health.
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Little Journey is part of the sixth cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.