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Knowledge via cartoons helps lower patients’ anxiety

Patients who undergo surgery for the same disease are often afraid of the same things and frequently wrestle with the same questions. This is one of the starting points for the award-winning app ‘My Patient Journey’ (in Danish: ‘Mit Forløb’), which was invented and developed for hospital patients by, among others, Martin Vesterby from INNO X at Health.

2018.06.27 | Nanna Jespersgård

If you work at the interface between research and education, you shouldn’t keep your project secret to protect yourself and your invention, says Martin Vesterby, who recommends the opposite: Share!

"If my bowel cancer operation means that I’m given a colostomy bag, can I still take my grandchild to the public swimming pool?"

As patients, we are individualists in a pretty similar way when it comes to our concerns, worries and queries in connection with a specific disease, with colostomy bags and swimming pools just one of many examples of this. Precisely this – that we are afraid of the same things – is what the ‘My Patient Journey’ app addresses as it provides patients who are facing an operation or another major form of treatment at a hospital with information and education via computer, tablet or smartphone.

The app is available to order for hospital departments who can find the approx. DKK 50,000 which the start-up of a customised version costs. In addition, an annual subscription is paid based on the number of patients. This ensures that all content is updated in accordance with the local clinical guidelines.

"You should also take into account that ‘My Patient Journey’ has shown that it saves both hospitalisations, information meetings and subsequent telephone calls from discharged patients who are, for example, uncertain about what they’re allowed to do at home. In this sense, they actually earn money and save time with ‘My Patient Journey’", says the co-inventor of the product, Medical Doctor Martin Vesterby, who is also one of the Health employees who has taken the step ‘From knowledge to product’.

In his daily work, Martin Vesterby is director of INNOX where he works with innovation and the development of demand-driven solutions in a centre construction under the Department of Clinical Medicine. Concurrently, he is research coordinator in the company Visikon, established in order to future-proof ‘My Patient Journey’ – which also won in the category ‘Outstanding Services' when the Danish Design Centre awarded the Danish Design Award 2018 in June.

A total solution for patients and relatives

‘My Patient Journey’ is best described as a total solution which uses words and cartoons to describe how the patient should prepare, what will happen at the hospital and the best way for the patient to subsequently recover as quickly as possible. In addition to the videos and training plans, the app also contains symptom guides, an interactive diary, general brochure material and FAQs targeted at both patients and their relatives, who are also given access to the system. Last but not least, ‘My Patient Journey’ includes contact information for the relevant people at the specific department, thus providing a sense of security.

"There hasn’t been any wish to limit the possibility of personal contact with the hospital, but the need for this has nevertheless turned out to decrease. At the same time, this contact has changed from one-way information to discussions on an informed basis, something that many of the healthcare professionals have been pleased to see," says Martin Vesterby.

Cartoons can explain complexity

So far, six Danish hospitals have invested in ‘My Patient Journey’, and the positive experiences are first and foremost attributed to the cartoons which are the hallmark of the app. The cartoon films are produced in collaboration with local clinicians and according to Martin Vesterby they have the advantage of describing complex operations and procedures in a way that enables patients to understand them. See a few examples in the presentation video below:

It turns out that on average, patients only spend seven per cent of their time in ‘My Patient Journey’ on reading texts in the form of traditional written information. On the other hand, no less than sixty per cent of their time is spent on watching the cartoons.

"Through a PhD study, we’ve documented that if information is designed in the correct way, it can reduce the patients’ anxiety. This is interesting because it is indisputable that an anxious patient is poor at cooperating," says Martin Vesterby. He refers to the research area ‘patient empowerment’ which documents how and why strong patients who can take care of things themselves are also good patients who cooperate, want to contribute and take responsibility for their recovery.

There is also research that shows that many patients do not understand or cannot use the information they today receive in text form.

"Today’s leaflets and PDFs with their written information don’t help our patients," says Martin Vesterby. 

Failure can be a good thing

The foundation for ‘My Patient Journey’ was laid around ten years ago when then 33-year-old Martin Vesterby thought he was going to be an orthopaedic surgeon and was therefore busy with his training at the Centre for Planned Surgery at Silkeborg Regional Hospital.

"It was here that I found inspiration for an IT project that had to do with getting patients home quickly after hip surgery and in this way resolving a bottleneck issue with a lack of beds for operations. The product didn’t function at all, but as we know, many breakthroughs begin with a flop and this taught me the need to take a more investigative approach, look for sparring and to work across disciplines," says Martin Vesterby.

An important sparring partner in further development was an anthropologist, Rikke Aarhus, who taught Martin Vesterby what was according to him the most important thing – namely to change his focus from his own and the department's needs to that of the most important people here, which is to say the needs of the patients.

In the period that followed Viborg company Mark Film, who combine animation and software development with strategic communication, where also included in the development as it began to take form. The product and the collaboration were combined in a new company, Visikon, and has since developed further over time. Managing Director of Mark Film, Anders Nejsum, moved to Visikon and is today in charge of development and operations together with eight employees, making him Martin Vesterby’s closest working partner on the app. This experience with processes leads Martin Vesterby – who is also a business engagement partner at the Department of Clinical Medicine – to an important point. Which is: you must share your knowledge with others. Quickly!

Share, share, share!

"If you work at the interface between research and education, you shouldn’t keep your project secret to protect yourself and your invention. I’ve seen too many examples where things have gone wrong, either because the project has gone down the drain or development has taken so long that they’ve been overtaken by others," says Martin Vesterby.

"Instead, go and tell your colleagues what you’re working on. Ask people from other disciplines for advice. And go out and meet the end users at an early stage. All this goes against our wish to protect ourselves and the product, and you can argue that it also goes against the principles of relevant legislation and credit models. But that’s what works if the goal is to create value for society," says Martin Vesterby, who has certainly not become rich from ‘My Patient Journey’.

So far, Visikon has decided to invest all profits in development in the form of more employees, which is fine with Martin Vesterby.

"For me, ‘My Patient Journey’ is a project for my leisure time, while my salary comes from INNO X. But when a clinician I don’t know at all suddenly begins praising ‘My Patient Journey’ without having any idea that I was involved in creating the product, then that is priceless. Then I think that we’ll get where we’re aiming to with Visikon – and that is to be the best in the world at patient communication. Because that is the ambition.

More about the financial aspect

  • For the approximately DKK 50,000 that it costs to start-up ‘My Patient Journey’ in a standard department, the department gets a proven service platform. It is delivered customised to the individual hospital department, and in addition to being able to offer their patients and relatives an app, they also get access to the large visual library behind 'My Patient Journey’. It can be used for communication via other channels in the hospital such as e.g. printed materials, websites etc.
  • The platform is maintained by an annual subscription based on the number of patients. This ensures that all content is updated in accordance with the local clinical guidelines.
  • In 2017, Visikon’s turnover was approx. DKK 2.8 million. Around a quarter of this came from ‘My Patient Journey’. All profits – also from other products – are invested in development and new employees with a view to completing the mission of becoming the best in the world at patient communication. 


MD, PhD Martin Vesterby
Director of INNO X
Business engagement partner at the Department of Clinical Medicine
Email: martin@clin.au.dk
Direct tel.: (+45) 2513 7203
Mobile: (+45) 2026 7814

Research, Health and disease, Academic staff, Department of Biomedicine, Health, Technical / administrative staff, Department of Public Health, Public/Media, Department of Clinical Medicine, Department of Forensic Medicine