Helping Children Cope

Today technology offers many ways to inform, prepare and entertain young hospital patients



Needing medical treatment in an emergency room can be a frightening experience, especially for a child. Along with the pain and fear of the injury or illness itself is the confusion of the hospital and its buzz of activity. The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital understands this, so that while physicians treat a problem medically, a full-time, specially trained Pediatric Emergency Department child life specialist is on hand with various technologies and modern teaching techniques at her disposal to help children and their families deal with the stress of an emergency-room visit.

Michelle McCann, the pediatric ED child life specialist, says her job is “to support patients and families in the ED, help them learn about procedures and treatments and understand what the nurses and doctors are doing and help them adjust to the ED environment, which may be the first exposure they’ve had to a hospital.”

Her technical arsenal includes an iPad loaded with age-specific apps that explain procedures such as sutures and ear or eye scopes. The device also has videos explaining what it’s like to undergo an X-ray, a CT (computed tomography) scan, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or an ultrasound. “They can see what the room and camera look like and hear how they sound, and that helps to prepare them for these experiences,” she says.

Another device is a SurgiDoll, a lifelike doll on which McCann can show kids how medical equipment works. “We can put on a tourniquet, insert an IV or use a stethoscope, and the kids learn while playing,” she explains.

Sometimes what kids need most is diversion, and McCann has games on her iPad and a DS3 console to help them pass the time. “There can be a lot of waiting in an ED,” she says. But there can also be just the opposite. “It can be a very fast-moving environment,” says McCann, who works from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and every other weekend. “Sometimes my visit with kids is cut short, and sometimes I don’t get to speak to them at all. If that’s the case, then I can do post-treatment support. I can follow the patient to the floor if he or she is admitted and come back the next day if needed.”

For McCann, who started in February 2013, the job is a perfect fit. “I love it!” she says. “I get to play all day. I love children and showing them what is happening as we play. I enjoy watching them learn and come to understand what’s happening to them. When they ‘get it,’ it’s very gratifying.”

Outside the ED, other child life specialists also use technology to help kids feel comfortable in the hospital, says Kristal Neal, child life coordinator. There are video game systems like Wii and Xbox, DVD and music players, and a dozen or so iPads and laptops that kids can use. “The goal is to normalize the child’s life,” Neal says. “And this therapeutic aspect works in conjunction with the medical aspects of treatment to help them heal.” —D.L.

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