State-of-the-art-technology designed by TCD researchers allows sick children in hospital to communicate with friends and family

Posted on: 05 March 2007

Monday, March 5, 2007 – Solas, an online network which has been developed by Trinity College’s Centre for Health Informatics for sick children suffering from childhood cancers and blood disorders at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin has been launched today. State-of-the-art technology has been customised to allow these sick children to communicate with one another within the hospital and with their families at home via email, video conferencing and live chat over a secure internet environment in the wards. It also facilitates the children to create an online collaborative space, sharing experience with each other by writing stories, creating art as well as composing music with specially designed software.

The Solas project is a new departure in that it will allow secure internet connection for the first time in the children’s isolation wards outside of the hospital school environment which is supervised by a teacher. It will mean that these sick children with cancer, who are confined to the National Paediatric Blood & Cancer Unit at Our Lady’s can access computers and the internet for the first time.

Commenting on the project, Professor Jane Grimson, Director of TCD’s Centre for Health Informatics said: “Modern technology such as the Solas project can address some of the psychosocial issues affecting children who are long term patients in hospital by creating a virtual environment which will provide for communication, social support, educational benefits as well as relaxation and entertainment.”

Professor Owen Smith, Professor of Blood Disorders at TCD and Consultant Paediatric Haematologist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, who treats many of these young patients said:” These children can spend 4-6 weeks in isolation with limited access to friends and family, undergoing intensive treatment protocols, this technology offers them an opportunity to maintain some sense of contact with the outside world that will help with their treatment and recovery.”

Research has shown that children in hospital, especially those suffering from a chronic illness, can experience feelings of isolation, change in family dynamics, depression and loss of peer interaction. The Solas initiative has been designed in order to respond to some of these children’s psychological and social needs. It comprises a mobile wireless unit which can be moved from room to room which allows for a number of input devices (e.g voice, touch screen) which can facilitate the diversity and range of users of the system in a very simple manner.

The children’s needs can vary, for example many of them who have undergone chemotherapy and are quite lethargic, respond in particular to sound and colour, and the audiobook facility also allows for stories to be read to them. Children aged 8-18 years of age are accessing the facility and there are currently over 30 children using it. Customising a solution for the National Paediatric Blood & Cancer Unit has been at the core of this work, allowing children to set up a video link with the click of a button and intuitively navigate through the various activities.

The Solas project is part of TCD’s Centre for Health Informatics ongoing online project called Áit Eile which offers hospital-to-hospital, hospital-to-home, hospital-to- school and home-to-home connection allowing parents and children to communicate with one another. The Áit Eile project, is hospital school-based and the internet connection is supervised by a relevant teacher*.

Solas is funded under the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Fund for Digital Research. Sponsorship has also been received from Sony Ireland and the Unilever Ireland Trust Fund.

Solas was launched by TCD Provost, Dr John Hegarty in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. Guest speaker for the event was broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy who is a patron of Áit Eile. Speakers included Director of Finance of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Evelyn Hempenstall, Professor Owen Smith, Professor of Blood Disorders at TCD and Consultant Paediatric Haematologist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and a child attending the Hospital who has been accessing the Solas initiative.

The Áit Eile project is now linked to 14 hospitals around the country including the National Children’s Hospital, in Tallaght, Cork University Hospital, Temple Street Hospital, National Rehabilitation Hospital and Cappagh Orthopaedic Hospital among others.

Ryan tubridy with patients stephen murray and tara lane at the solas launch