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Image of good health: Avatars can help nurses teach

Avatars can compensate for literacy issues by relaying important messages to patients, an Australian researcher told attendees of an international nursing conference.

Professor Robyn Clark from Flinders University, said using avatars – figures, often cartoons, that depict a person digitally – could make reading less of an obstacle for patients.

Clark discussed the use of avatars to address health literacy and cultural teaching issues at the Worldwide Nursing Conference held in Singapore.

“[The avatars] may look like a nurse or a doctor or they may even look like a fun version of the patient themselves but the fact that the avatars will actually speak to them in many languages overcomes the need for reading,” Clark said.

She said care was taken to ensure the avatars used simplistic language to pass on important concepts or medical education and bedside teaching that nurses wanted patients to learn.
“We're hoping to replace old-fashioned pamphlets and booklets by having iPads and tablets more commonly available at the bedside," Clark said. “Hopefully, in the future we'll also have more wifi and internet connections in hospitals but that's a little way off. But with a simple tablet, even a smartphone, patients can be taught at the bedside by the nurse showing a download of an app with the avatar in it and all of the bedside teaching information that we want to pass over.”

Clark and her team have developed two demonstration models, one teaching patients how to respond to chest pain and get help quickly and the other to teach heart failure patients how to monitor their signs and symptoms.

“We can easily see how these simple teaching devices could be used for any bedside teaching chronic disease,” she said. “We could change the language of the avatar very simply by just tapping a switch, so that also makes it important for our multicultural and ethnic groups.”

She added: “In the future, we see this will be an easily adaptive and usable tool for nurses to use to teach.”

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