A social network at Victoria General Hospital lets sick kids connect with each other

Young patients at Victoria General Hospital now have access to a networking tool called Upopolis. It allows them to stay in touch with family and friends while they're undergoing treatment, but it also lets them make connections with other kids who share similar experiences.

"These benefits include being able to access medical content written specifically for the youth on Upopolis in kid friendly language, so they can better understand their illness and their diagnosis and their treatment plans," said Christina Papaevangelou, director of Kids' Health Links Foundation.

"It also enables connections with other patients who share similar diagnoses through public and private chat room discussions."

Upopolis is available to any young patient at Victoria General Hospital who is going through treatment, but they can also access the secure network when they're back at home.

"It really means a lot to them," said Papaevangelou. 

"A lot of these youth have never met another person who has the same condition or diagnosis as them. Being able to meet a peer, maybe all the way across Canada, who really understands what they're going through, it helps them feel less alone, better understood."

It has the potential to help between 100 and 200 kids at Victoria General Hospital.

"We see patients here who have diabetes and other endocrine conditions," said Leah Dobell, manager for pediatric programs at Victoria General Hospital .

"We see patients who have cancer and blood disorders. We see patients who have cardiac conditions and we see patients with other varied complex, chronic conditions."

But Dobell thinks it will help young patients with rare conditions the most.

"Where there aren't other kids that they can be in touch with here locally, if they can find kids with the same or very similar condition on Upopolis and connect with them and share their experiences, I think it would be amazing," he said.

Access to Upopolis is restricted and monitored by adults with training in how to work with young hospital patients.

According to Dobell, that's part of what makes it unique.

"Other social media sites, like Facebook, are really all about glamorizing our lives, making us look as perfect and wonderful as possible," said Dobell.

"I think lots of kids don't want to post really personal stuff on those sites. So, to have a site where you can go on and just say, 'oh man, in the hospital again,' without having to explain why and what that means and the impact on their lives, I think it is just huge to be able to have peers who just get it."

Upopolis has been available in Canada since 2007. It's in almost every children's hospital in the country. The Victoria General Hospital is the first facility on the West Coast to join the social platform.