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Upopolis: Social Media for Kids in Hospitals

Over the next week, I will be writing a blog series focusing on several Canadian healthcare online social networks.  This is part 1 of 5.

I chose Upopolis™ as my 1st write-up because it was the network that inspired me to write the series.  You may have heard of Upopolis in December 2009, when Sick Kids Hospital announced that they had launched the online community in their facility.  It was the first time that I had heard of Upopolis.  As a Mom who has always worked in pharma and is passionate about using social networks for healthcare purposes, I was really excited about this brilliant application of social media and was immediately driven to learn more about it.  Basile Papaevangelou, chairman and founder of Kids’ Health Links Foundation took the time to share his insights with me regarding the Upopolis network.  Highlights of the discussion are found below;

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What is Upopolis?

Upopolis is a specialized online, private community designed specifically for hospitalized children.  Involvement in the network allows the children to develop and maintain a personal blog and communicate (chat online, take part in discussion boards, and e-mail) with other children who are members of the Upopolis community as well as approved external parties, including their friends, relatives, teacher and classmates.  The children can also play fun games, access homework, and use the network as a method of accessing kid-friendly information about their medical condition.  The medical information was written by Child Life Professionals at the McMaster Children’s Hospital. It was also reviewed, vetted and approved by doctors, clinicians and specialist in each area (eg leukemia, MRI, etc..)

A Canadian Teen Social Media Fact:

It is no surprise that children and teens are involved with social media, but   an Ipsos Reid study released in June 2009 confirms that Canadian teens are embarking on online communities at a rapid rate;

“Over three-quarters (76%) of online Canadians teens aged 12-17 now have a social network profile, up from 50% in 2007.”

So it’s no wonder that a system like Upopolis can make most children and teens feel a bit more at home during their hospital stay.

And in case you are wondering, the ages of the children using the Upopolis network range from 8 to 17 years old +364 days. Once they turn 18 years of age, they would be treated in adult hospitals where privacy and security with respect to Internet access is very different.

When was it launched?

The network became available to a handful of patients in 2007 at McMaster Children’s Hospital.  During this period, time was spent working on solutions to fix bugs in the system and improve its overall functionality.  The official launch took place late 2008.

How many hospitals use Upopolis – in Canada and US?

Currently, Upopolis is only available to Canadian children’s hospitals.  Typically, 20 laptops are provided per site.

The Kids’ Health Links Foundation is planning on launching Upopolis at 4 or 5 other Canadian children’s hospitals in 2010.

At the moment, the objective is to reach all Canadian children’s hospitals before launching in a U.S. children’s hospital.  There are so many hospitals in the U.S. that could benefit from this system, yet the Kids’ Health Links Foundation is just a tiny organization and such a task would be quite overwhelming.

However, the good news for U.S. children’s hospitals is that the Kids’ Health Links Foundation is prepared to discuss the use of Upopolis with American philantrophic organizations who would like to take leadership of the network in their own country.  Organizations in the U.S. who might be interested in this opportunity should contact Basile at Kids’ Health Links Foundation, (905) 817-1717, basile@kidshealthlinks.org.

What is the cost to the hospital or the children’s families for the use of Upopolis in the hospital?

When the Kids’ Health Links Foundation came up with the concept of Upopolis, their intent was truly philanthropic.  They partnered with organizations that agreed to help them achieve their goal of providing Upopolis as a free service to the hospitals and the children’s families.

Big applauds go to the following generous players who provide the free, high quality, goods and services which make a difference in many children’s lives;

TELUS hosts, installs, trains, supports, trouble shoots, provides assistance via their help desk, manages upgrades, and implements risk management, all at no charge.   TELUS originally developed the network’s software.  They continue to improve it based on feedback.  At the time of writing this blog post (January 2009), the Upopolis network is in its 4th version.  The changes that have been made along the course have made the network richer and more fun for the children.

As an aside, congratulations to TELUS for being named the top philanthropic corporation for 2010. TELUS is the first Canadian company to ever receive this global honor.  You will notice that TELUS is also a sponsor of the Canadian healthcare online community that will be featured later this week as part of this blog series.

Toshiba provides, at no cost, specially equipped and sanitized laptops.  Typically 20 laptops are provided per hospital that signs up with the network.

All creative work is done at no charge by Polar Unlimited. Here are just a few samples of the teaser and launch posters that they developed, which are used by hospitals that sign up with the network;

The intent is for Upopolis to have a therapeutic component while the children are in the hospital.  Therefore, not only is there no cost to the hospitals or users of the network, but Kids’ Health Links Foundation also fundraises and donates $50,000 to each participating hospital to assist them in integrating the Upopolis project into their delivery of psychosocial care.

You or your organization can help the Kids’ Health Links Foundation continue to provide this grant to the hospitals.  Donation details are found on their website, and click on “Donate”.

Can the children continue to use the software after they leave the hospital?

The laptops stay at the hospital and as children check into the hospital, they can be assigned a username and password and gain access to one of the available laptops.  There are exceptions.  For children who return to the hospital on a regular basis (ie. dialysis), Upopolis maintains their registration and password on the network so that they can access it from home.  For children who have checked out of the hospital and have formed a network with other children within the closed network, they can be given 30 or 60 days where they can continue to remain in contact with their new friends.  This should give them enough time to set up new mechanisms to stay connected online.

Why not use a mainstream online community?

Several hospitals have firewalls, which prohibits the use of external sites such as FaceBook.  However, there is an even more important reason why children’s hospitals prefer to use a system like Upopolis; it is child-specific and parent-approved.

Upopolis provides e-mail and blog features, but only within the community of Upopolis or by invitation.  To invite an external contact, the child must provide the hospital with a list of external people that he or she would like to invite.  Parents give the hospital permission to set up the external contacts, and then a hospital staff person sends out the approved invitations on behalf of the child.

Is there any monitoring of content?

Security of the network is of utmost importance to Kids’ Health Links Foundation, Telus, the hospitals and of course the families of the children using the network.  Basic security is achieved by permission and acceptance of terms of use.  There is also a sophisticated software, a real-time watch-dog tool, which blocks the children from accessing certain information through Google.  There is also a daily report on activities, sites accessed, file sizes received from friends and downloaded, use of inappropriate language.  Moreover, there also is a real live ‘Web Mother’, who sits on top of the action and watches in real time for exception reports out of the system that flag unusual activities, language etc.  The web mother is Glyn Ganong the mother of Katie McDonald, Basile’s daughter’s friend who was one of the inspirations for UPOPOLIS.

At the end of the day, account holders that use inappropriate words are identified and contacted to ensure removal of the inappropriate comment.

Can medical marketers promote their brand or corporation with the Upopolis network?

There is a strict ‘no advertising’ policy on the Upopolis network.  However, if an organization is planning on partnering with children’s hospitals or wishes to be recognized as an organization that genuinely wants to support children’s causes without promotion, then you might want to consider a donation to help support the incorporation of the Upopolis in one or more of the remaining Canadian children’s hospitals.  The Kids’ Health Links Foundation would support public recognition, such as press releases, for such donations.

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After having heard all this information, I can only see upsides for the hospitals and the users of the network.  The Upopolis network is truly a philantrophic project, one that will benefit many hospitalized children across Canada.  As Basile puts it, “it is a project from the heart.”  Best wishes to all parties involved in the Upopolis project – keep up the great work!

DISCLOSURE: I have not been paid to write this article, and the organizations mentioned are not clients.

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Every day of this week, a Canadian healthcare social network (online community) will be featured on this blog.  Tomorrow, the featured online social network is also targeting teens, but specifically teens who have or have had cancer.  So please make sure to check in.

Stay in touch,
Natalie

Connect with me on the following networks:
FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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4 Responses

  1. Well, as long as it’s a good cause and keeps the children entertained while they’re not exactly having the best of times, why not?

  2. Your article was most tweeted by Pharma experts in the Twitterverse…

    Come see other top popular articles surfaced by Pharma experts!…

  3. […] Nice! RT @NatBourre Take a close look at Upopolis: Social Media for Kids in Hospitals – http://tinyurl.com/ykfpzp9 #hcsm The Racist Criminality of North Korea – http://bit.ly/cpA4sj “Phil?! Hey, Phil?! […]

  4. […] in Canada.  In fact, they are a sponsor of one of my favorite children non-profit organizations, Upopolis.  Here is a statement that is found on the Info tab of their FaceBook page: We give where we live. […]

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