Cincinnati Children's nurse invents video game to reduce child anxiety over anesthesia masks

Columbus company to market product to hospitals nationwide

- A Cincinnati Children's nurse practitioner invented a breathing-controlled video game to help young kids relax when it's time to put on an anesthesia mask and fall asleep for surgery. A Columbus, Ohio firm has licensed the right to market the tablet-based computer application to other hospitals.


Cincinnati Children's is the first medical center in the United States to pilot the product, called EZ Induction, which could be a game changer for hospitals that perform surgery on children.

The gaming app, which features cartoon animals that children are able to move by breathing into a mask, helps reduce anxiety during the anesthesia-induction process. The invention has been licensed to LittleSeed Calming Technologies LLC, which plans to launch EZ Induction in 2023.

"Many young patients become anxious when an anesthesia mask is placed over their face in the operating room," said Abby Hess , a doctor of nursing practice who invented the video game concept at Cincinnati Children's. "I wanted to find a way to help kids feel calmer during this high-anxiety moment."

Hess works closely with kids about to undergo surgery through her role with the Department of Anesthesia at Cincinnati Children's, and she also spends time focused on research. Hess noted that each year, thousands of kids at Cincinnati Children's and millions elsewhere across the US are given anesthesia for surgery. That includes medical and dental procedures.

Anesthesia is commonly administered through a mask to kids who are 10 years old or younger. Despite the best efforts of medical professionals and parents to prepare a child for the experience, many youngsters cry and resist the anesthesia mask. This experience is stressful for kids, parents, and medical staff. Additionally, studies have shown that high anxiety before surgery is associated with poorer outcomes after surgery.

After witnessing countless children in distress during this part of the pre-surgery process, Hess came up with a clever solution. She collaborated with the Cincinnati Children's Innovation Ventures team and the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund to prototype, create, and test the app.

The breathing-controlled EZ Induction product seamlessly transforms a scary anesthesia mask into a fun game controller. When the child puts on the mask and starts to breathe in and out, they win different challenges in the engaging animal-themed world of the game. The child learns how to play the game in a preoperative area, and then is offered the opportunity to play the final level when they go back to the operating room to fall asleep for surgery.

"The game shifts the focus from something scary to something that's calming and fun," Hess said. "It easily engages kids, teaches them to breathe calmly, and lets them know what to expect when they go back to the operating room. Seeing their child engage with the game also helps parents feel at ease and provides them with a novel way to coach their child during the process."

Jeff Penka , CEO of Little Seed Calming Technologies, echoed that and noted the major role Hess has played.

"Dr. Hess is a compassionate, driven, and innovative problem-solver," Penka said. "She has infused that patient-focused spirit and energy into the collaboration between Cincinnati Children's and LittleSeed Calming Technologies. Seeing how this engaging, fun application puts children and families at ease in an unfamiliar environment is both moving and a source of pride for all involved in its creation."

The EZ Induction app is just one example of product ideas developed at Cincinnati Children's.

"People may not realize that Cincinnati Children's is a hub for medical innovation," said Abram Gordon , vice president of Innovation Ventures, the medical center's technology transfer and commercialization group. "Cincinnati Children's has a long history of creating vaccines, therapeutics medical products and digital solutions – and we are ahead of the curve with organoid and small molecule research.

"At any given time, Innovation Ventures has about 500 projects in our pipeline," Gordon added. "Abby's work is a great example of Cincinnati Children's culture of innovation. Researchers, clinicians, and those on the front lines such as nurse practitioners think of creative ideas that often turn into improved care for our patients."

For more information about the product, visit the LittleSeed website.

About Cincinnati Children's

Cincinnati Children's was recognized as One of America's Most Innovative Companies by Fortune in 2023 – and ranks the highest of any children's hospital in the nation. In addition, Cincinnati Children's ranks among the top three in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's 2022-23 listing of Best Children's Hospitals. Established in 1883, Cincinnati Children's is a nonprofit academic medical center that is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through research, education, and innovation. More information about technologies developed at Cincinnati Children's may be found at Innovation.CincinnatiChildrens.org

LINK to Sound & B-Roll (credit Cincinnati Children's): Cincinnati Children's nurse practitioner Abby Hess came up with the idea for a video game to help young kids relax when it's time to put on an anesthesia mask before surgery. The invention has been licensed to LittleSeed Calming Technologies LLC of Columbus , Ohio, which is marketing a product called EZ Induction. https://youtu.be/SVOxYoPXkXo

Abby Hess, a doctor of nursing practice, invented the video game concept at Cincinnati Children's. Hess works closely with kids about to undergo surgery through her role with the Department of Anesthesia at Cincinnati Children's, and she also spends time focused on research.

Cincinnati Children's nurse practitioner Abby Hess, right, came up with the idea for a video game to help young kids relax when it's time to put on an anesthesia mask before surgery. Ethan Stallsworth, a patient at Cincinnati Children's, demonstrates how the game works.

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SOURCE Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

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