A growing number of U.S. children are considered "medically complex," and many hospitals are adopting innovative approaches to make medical experiences less painful and traumatic for those patients, Laura Landro reports in the Wall Street Journal.
"When a child has one negative experience, it can ruin the trust in medical facilities and staff for a long time, even into adulthood," says Mindy Mesneak, a child-life specialist at Cardon Children's Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz. Moreover, up to 80% of pediatric patients and their families report some traumatic stress after an illness, injury, hospitalization, or painful medical procedure, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).
In an effort to ease that stress, hospitals are working to make health care experiences less scary, and NCTSN provides facilities with tips, checklists, and screening tools to do so.
And the steps aren't just to keep kids happy: "Making a procedure less scary and more relaxing for a child can lead to better outcomes," says Susan Devore, CEO of hospital purchasing alliance Premier.
What hospitals are doing: Dolls, movie goggles help ease the pain, costs
At Cardon, child-life specialists lead "medical play" sessions with cloth dolls to explain medical procedures and the process of recovery. The sessions also give children a chance to create their own storylines, which in turn, give specialists insight into how they are coping with illness and pain.
With children who do not speak English, staff can use "play as a universal language for teaching kids about medical procedures," Cardon's Courtney Kissel says. Moreover, engaging children in medical play with toys and dolls can teach them to cope with illness in future medical scenarios, according to a University of Cincinnati study.
The hospital also uses a device on young patients that inserts intravenous tubes painlessly—the J-Tip device uses pressurized gas to send numbing medication into the tissue beneath the skin so the IV needle can be inserted into the vein painlessly.
Pediatric hospital is texting real-time surgery updates to parents
Meanwhile, some hospitals are using means of distraction as an alternative to sedating young patients. Sedation can take hours to wear off and be costly over time.
At Mission Children's Hospital in Asheville, N.C., officials have invested in a digital video system that allows children to watch movies while wearing special goggles during MRIs and other procedures that require them to lie still. The goggles eliminate both the costly need for sedation and often the costly need to re-test when a child moves while groggy, says Bret Sleight, Mission's director of pediatric radiology (Landro, Journal, 11/11).
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