The fun is in the waiting room

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Waiting in a doctor’s office or hospital for a medical appointment can be a stressful experience.  How can a health care facility make the waiting process more enjoyable and inclusive for all children? Researchers in the Bloorview Research Institute at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital have answered the call with ScreenPlay.

An interactive waiting room

Launched last year and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), ScreenPlay is the innovative answer from Dr. Elaine Biddiss, scientist in the Bloorview Research Institute and her team.

Their goal was to create a waiting room installation that would provide all children with the opportunity to create and control their environment, regardless of their disability.

“ScreenPlay is a unique installation designed to give waiting children and their families the opportunity to engage together in a calming play experience that is safe and accessible for people of all abilities,” says Dr. Biddiss. “It’s a collaborative effort that aims to understand and meet the needs of waiting children in a hospital environment.”

ScreenPlay came to life as a brightly-coloured, pressure-sensitive floor that allows children to create large projections on a floor-to-ceiling screen by standing, sitting and wheeling on the hundred tiles that make up the unique floor. Children of all abilities have the opportunity to participate in low-intensity exploration and creativity, easing the transition from waiting room to appointment.

Children can create collective images by playing on the floor with others, which helps to encourage socialization and collaborative learning. ScreenPlay responds both to motion and stillness. The longer a child stays in one spot on the floor, the bigger their projection can become. As a result, children with limited mobility can generate dynamic responses though slow movements. On the other hand, active, able-bodied children wanting to create bigger projections learn the value of slower, purposeful movements.

Researchers and clinicians worked with engineers and students from OCAD University who helped develop the system and design the projected images. “What is special about this project is the multi-disciplinary collaboration,” says Amy McPherson, a scientist in the Bloorview Research Institute and a member of the ScreenPlay research team. “Clinicians and researchers worked together to identify the needs for an interactive waiting room, and we brought in design students to help us make the projections beautiful. To develop a waiting room that served such a diverse group of clients, we needed as many perspectives as possible!”

A year after the official launch, the interactive installation is now an integral part of the hospital.  Kids use ScreenPlay regularly while waiting for their appointments. CIHR, the original funder of ScreenPlay, has responded to the project’s success with continuing support. Initially funding a 3-year grant from 2011 – 2013, CIHR has now extending funding through 2016.

Dr. Biddiss and her team conducted a data gathering phase with over 300 participants to understand ScreenPlay’s impact on the waiting process. They closed the recruitment phase of the research project at the end of May and are now analyzing the data provided by their large participant group.

Looking to the future, scientists want to explore ways to integrate ScreenPlay more effectively.  In addition to providing clients with an engaging way to spend time in the waiting room, it may become an important communication vehicle. The team is also looking to involve kids in designing new images for the display. To learn more about the ScreenPlay waiting room installation, contact Dr. Elaine Biddiss at EBiddiss@hollandbloorview.ca.