play portal sketch

As psychologist Jean Piaget teaches, play is a child’s work. Bethany Sweet, a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, helps young patients and their families cope with and understand various diagnoses and medical procedures. The patients are often anxious or scared about what is going to happen to them and need opportunities for play and mastery. Bethany uses real medical equipment to demonstrate procedures and encourage patients to play, explore and understand the equipment that is part of their care. However, some medical equipment is challenging to find and costly to purchase.

doll outfitted with a sample play portal device

The Play Portal prototype attached to an American Girl doll to be used with pediatric patients.

To better help these patients, Bethany created Play Portal, a fully functioning replicated port-a-catheter to use for medical preparation and medical play. With Play Portal, pediatric patients can practice and simulate port-a-catheter access and de-access on a doll or stuffed animal, so they know what to expect when receiving care with their own ports. By normalizing these procedures and empowering patients through play, patients take control of their treatment and recovery.

As a participant in the Spring 2021 MaineHealth Innovation Cohort, Bethany conducted six interviews with other child life specialists to better understand the need and any barriers to implementation. In June 2021, she filed a patent with help and financial assistance from MaineHealth Innovation. This summer, with the support of her supervisor and fellow child life specialist colleagues, Bethany was connected to the UMaine i-Corp program where she continued customer discovery to refine her prototype. She also partnered with the University of Southern Maine’s Maker Innovation Studio team to modify her latest prototype and produce it on a 3D printer. Most recently, Bethany received funds from the MaineHealth Innovation Ignite Fund to conduct a pilot study at MaineHealth and other health systems across New England.


Bethany eagerly shares her Play Portal successes at the MaineHealth Innovation Brewing Ideas Coffee Corner, a virtual drop-in session that meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month for anyone interested in innovation or bouncing ideas off of others. She is looking for input as she conducts her pilot study to gather more user data and feedback.

Check out Play Portal on the MaineHealth Innovation Intellectual Property Portfolio for more information.


Bethany Sweet, MS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist
The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center

Our Purpose

MaineHealth Innovation builds connections to drive diversity of thought, educates to produce creative problem-solvers and funds to accelerate ideas. By leveraging the ideas, insights and expertise of all care team members to develop novel solutions to our unmet care needs, we are working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.

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