iTui app gives vulnerable children a new voice

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Written by: Dr Maneesh Deva, Waitemata District Health Board

Dr Maneesh Deva

It can be challenging for anyone to talk to their doctor about their situation and their feelings – even more so when it’s a child talking to a ‘grown-up’. As a pediatrician, being able to draw out young patients to talk openly about their lives is critical to making assessments and recommending effective plans.

Last week at New Zealand’s largest annual digital health event, Health Informatics New Zealand (HiNZ), I demonstrated an app that has greatly improved my ability to assess my young patients. “iTui” – developed in partnership with IBM – is a drawing based iPad app that enables doctors to have higher quality interactions and engagement with kids.

The tool provides a common platform to describe and discuss thoughts, feelings and experiences, without being limited by drawing ability. Particularly in the case of children from troubled homes, it helps us to unlock different elements of their circumstances that weren’t identifiable before, because children  can struggle to communicate face-to-face. It can be quite confronting and stressful to speak directly to an adult doctor about your troubles; so instead we sit side-by-side allowing the child to led the activity in a play- based manner.

Playing on the iTui App

There have been limited tools available in this area  previously, so we were starting from scratch, using IBM’s Design Thinking approach which enabled us to ‘iterate’ and test the app in clinics to ensure it worked for the clinicians and for the kids.  We realised through that process that drawing on a screen actually helped the children unlock, explore and engage rather than distract them from the conversation.

At the conference we announced that the app is available for free for all New Zealand DHBs. The more it’s used, the more feedback we get, the better we can make the app … and the more kids we can help.

See it in action at

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