I’ve written about the ways child life specialists make being in hospital less traumatic for children and their parents: advocating for positions of comfort, educating patients in age appropriate ways, providing distraction during procedures and opportunities for children to engage in activities that encourage self-expression. Play is essential to a sense of well being. Amidst the chaos of hospitalization, play gives children a normalizing experience. While playing, children are in charge, an important respite from having little control over what’s happening in their lives.
Well Documented Benefits
All these practices reduce stress, enhance coping skills, and help patients manage pain. With preparation and distraction, procedures require less sedation thus reducing the risks of side effects. Patients recover faster, readmissions decline, and both children and their parents report increased satisfaction with the hospital experience. The benefits are so well documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for child life services.
Adults Struggle Too
Granted adults aren’t children, but illness and injury leading to hospitalization are discombobulating at best. Even the best educated, well informed, well adjusted among us can easily become overwhelmed by all that’s happening. We know we need to “get a grip.” We have questions and need easy to understand answers. We need time to process all that’s happening, figure out ways to cope, relieve our distress, and manage our pain.
Patient-Focused Care for All
Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article online entitled “Why Hospitals Should Treat Adults Like Children.” Or to be more precise, how making adult hospitals more like children’s hospitals reduces anxiety and readmissions. This insightful article is a must read for everyone interested in patient-focused health care.
Less Stress, Better Outcomes
The author, Lisa Ward, interviewed Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of “Balloon Animals, Guitars, and Fewer Blood Draws: Applying Strategies From Pediatrics to the Treatment of Hospitalized Adults,” which appeared in Annals of Internal Medicine, 19 May 2015.
Anyone who has ever been in hospital recalls being awakened every couple of hours for medical interventions, whether checking vital signs, drawing blood, or giving medicine. In neonatal intensive care units, best practice prescribes grouping interventions to minimize sleep disruptions. That’s a practice we all can appreciate and one example of how “treating adults like children” could make hospital stays less stressful.
Will March roar in like a lion and go out like a lamb? Will March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers? Folklore suggests so, but we’ll have to “stay tuned” to find out. Whatever the weather, we’re marching towards the arrival of Spring, the season of renewal, and celebrating Child Life Month and the invaluable contributions child life specialists make in helping children and their families successfully meet life’s most challenging events, particularly those involving healthcare and hospitalization.
Child life specialists use their extensive knowledge of child development and family systems to promote effective coping skills. They do this through age-appropriate play, procedural preparation and distraction, education, and activities that encourage self expression.
By providing emotional support and information to parents and siblings, child life specialists maximize the well being not only of the child but also of the family unit. Beyond that, they educate other members of the healthcare team on effective ways to meet psycho-social needs of children under stress and that improves outcomes. Education and advocacy are key to getting everyone on board in providing the best and most compassionate care possible. This means taking time to explain the procedure or treatment and what to expect during and afterwards, answering questions, using positions of comfort and distraction techniques to minimize discomfort and relieve stress. Everything goes more smoothly when everyone shares a common goal.