This Cincinnati Children’s Nurse Practitioner Is Helping Kids Reduce Anxiety Before Surgery

How her breath-controlled video game is revolutionizing anesthesia induction for children

The creator of EZ Induction holds the game. EZ Induction logo.

Preparing for surgery can be anxiety-inducing for adults and kids alike, but for children, the process of administering anesthesia can be especially distressing and potentially lead to adverse outcomes after surgery. To ease that anxiety and give kids a better experience ahead of their procedure, Abby Hess, a nurse practitioner in the Department of Anesthesiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, invented a device that combines breathing exercises with engaging video games for kids.

EZ Induction follows a story about a little elephant that’s going to a birthday party at the zoo,” she said. “You have to breathe into the mask to win different challenges. The game was intentionally designed to connect the pre-operative area to the operating room where kids are induced. They continue to have something fun at every stage leading up to surgery. This story flips the experience for kids from something of increasing anxiety to excitement about the next level of the game, and it brings their focus to something positive and fun ahead of surgery.”

Hess came up with the original idea years prior to the development of the first prototype, which started out as an iPhone and standard pair of headphones that connected to an anesthesia mask. To move the prototype to the next level and further develop and test the device, Hess collaborated with the team at Cincinnati Children’s Innovation Ventures. The Innovation Team helped Hess navigate the early stages of the project and identify opportunities for additional funding.

“The Innovation Ventures Team at Cincinnati Children’s helped me to develop the product and find multiple funding opportunities, including the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation Startup Fund,” she said. “This funding helped support many areas critical to product commercialization, including clinical testing, product refinement, and design for manufacturing. Product commercialization is a long and challenging pathway, and many products never make it to market. Our team is so appreciative of the Ohio Third Frontier program, as this funding helped us advance the product to a stage where we could find a great commercialization partner who could get the product out to other hospitals!”

Although Hess invented EZ Induction to help kids in a pre-operative hospital setting, the device can be used in other health care settings where children receive anesthesia before a procedure.

“There are many patients who require anesthesia for radiology and dental procedures, so these patient populations within the hospital and externally could also really benefit from this innovation,” Hess said.

The device is already in use in the main operating room and other locations at Cincinnati Children’s and is receiving praise from both patients and their parents and family members. The invention has also been licensed to the Ohio-based company LittleSeed Technologies, LLC, which plans to launch EZ Induction in 2023. And while Hess is working to launch the final commercial version of the product, she’s also mentoring other nurses and clinicians though their own medical innovation journeys.

“It’s been really exciting to mentor others who are going through the innovation process,” she said. “Clinicians and researchers are so driven to develop products that improve the lives of patients and the health care system, but they cannot do this without funding and partnerships. The Ohio Third Frontier program plays a unique and important role in supporting clinical innovation and helping get innovative technologies to the patient’s bedside.”

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