Design student ideas aid the delivery of better healthcare

26 June 2017

A toy that reports a child’s behaviour, an interactive game that destigmatises mental health, and a virtual healing garden that cultivates patient feedback - these were among 24 ideas developed by University of Sydney students to aid in the delivery of better healthcare.

For the last three months, Master students from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning have been collaborating with the mental healthcare service, Redbank House at Westmead, to identify and create new technologies that would support healthcare services.

Leading the project was Dr Naseem Ahmadpour, a Lecturer in Design Thinking and researcher in the Design Lab at the University of Sydney, who sees great potential for design-led thinking to promote better healthcare and to inspire new technology that will enable people to self-manage their health.

“Interactive and creative technology such as apps, digital screens and augmented or virtual reality environments that are well-designed and intuitive for people to use have the potential of becoming valuable aids in the future delivery of healthcare and to improve health literacy,” said Dr Naseem Ahmadpour.

The group of students studying a Master of Interaction Design and Electronic Arts undertook their own research to identify a problem and design a piece of technology that would address the issue. The students focused on one of four healthcare needs that included integrated care, mental health, clinical care and patient experience.

Among the innovative ideas developed was an interactive toy that captured the progress of a child with behavioural or mental health issues. The toy is designed to talk to the child while recording its responses that are reported back to parents, teachers, social workers or psychologists managing the child’s progress.

With the aim of destigmatising mental health, an interactive digital screen was also created. Using the silhouette of the human body, players are encouraged to see physical health in tandem with mental health. When the player reaches the brain, a question is raised about mental wellbeing alongside physical health. The game is accompanied by an app and interactive booth for an on-the-spot assessment of the player’s own mental health.

A virtual healing garden was also designed to collect feedback from visitors to Redbank House to improve services. The calming space at the exit of the facility allowed visitors to relax in a virtual garden experienced using augmented reality technology. They would see visitor feedback in the form of virtual trees that prompted their feedback to assist with the growth of the trees.

Carl Gray, a senior social worker and Acting Head of the Early Childhood and Child and Family Units at Redbank House, and one of the healthcare professionals working with the students, found the project and ideas opened his mind to new ways of thinking about the delivery of care in his clinical practice.

“The approach that the design students took broadened my scope when thinking about ways to use technology to improve service. It introduced me to new ideas that can inform the way I engage people in thinking about mental health,” said Carl Gray.

“It also reinforced the idea that when you bring humans together in an open and supportive environment, their differences can become a creative resource for growth, development and healing,” he added.

Dr Naseem Ahmadpour and Carl Gray will join a panel of speakers at a Sydney Ideas event at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research on Tuesday, 27 June to discuss how engineers, designers and computer scientists can play a part and change the access, delivery and understanding of better health and healthcare services.

Above image: Doctor using augmented reality. Image created by Creativeart -