As an experienced healthcare professional, you know providing a positive experience is crucial for earning a patient’s trust, regardless of their age. But when it comes to treating pediatric patients who are just beginning to associate the hospital environment with feeling pain, establishing trust is even more critical.
After all, by the time a child reaches age six, they will have received 36 immunizations via intramuscular injection, according to Medscape, not to mention any heel sticks, finger pricks or venipuncture. The sooner they feel comfortable with these procedures, the better for everyone involved.
So what can nurses do to improve a child’s patient experience?
To help you alleviate younger patient’s fears, here are seven useful pediatric distraction techniques:
- Interactive games
There is a wealth of interactive and age-appropriate apps you can easily pull up on a tablet device to divert a pediatric patient’s attention during a needle procedure. By opening the app and starting the game a couple of minutes before you begin the procedure, you’ll have time to gather materials and prepare the injection site without raising their interest. By the time you’re ready to start, they’ll be fully engrossed in their game.
Music is a powerful tool for calming a patient’s nerves before and during a variety of medical procedures, from needle pricks to surgeries. Patients who listen to music before a procedure show fewer symptoms of anxiety, according to an article in Harvard Health Publishing.
To help distract young patients during a needle procedure, ask their favorite song or artist and pull it up on a phone, tablet or another readily available device. If possible, provide the child with headphones to help seal out other sounds that might increase anxiety, such as preparing a syringe.
Reading is one of the most useful pediatric distraction methods for children of any age. For toddlers, consider using interactive pop-up books. For preschool-aged children, use look-and-find books or ask the loved one accompanying them to read stories aloud. If the child can read, ask them to read to you from a book and keep them engaged by asking questions about the story.
- Videos or image projections
As soon as you enter the room, ask the child their favorite TV show or character and pull up age-appropriate videos they can watch on a tablet device. While a TV can be useful, smaller screens are often more captivating for children because they can hold them.
Additionally, some pediatric units are equipped with ceiling projections so the child can lay down and stare upwards, rather than watching you prepare for the procedure.
Light-up stuffed animals
Stuffed animals and toys that light up, buzz, play music or provide any other stimulation make excellent distraction tools for infants and toddlers. Ask the child’s loved one to hold the item in the opposite direction of the procedure or give it to the child right before you begin.
- Deep breathing
While it may be difficult for younger children, deep breathing is one of the best pediatric distraction methods for older children. This coping technique is proven to help people of all ages manage stress and anxiety, including any apprehension they may feel before a medical procedure.
Start by asking the patient to breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight. In addition to counting breaths, you can also incorporate visualization techniques, such as asking them to imagine a place they’ve visited or a happy experience with friends. You can assist in their relaxation by playing soft ambient music through speakers or headphones.
Before you begin the procedure, tell the child they’re going to receive a reward after it’s completed. Some pediatric facilities keep a “treasure chest” container filled with games, books, toys and stuffed animals a child can claim after they’ve finished the procedure. Before you begin, engage the child by asking what sort of prize they might like.
In some cases, the loved one accompanying the child may have their own special plans for after the visit. If so, prompt them to talk about their plans to keep the patient’s focus before and during the procedure.
While it's natural for young patients to feel anxious before receiving an injection or other procedure, having a pediatric patient’s full cooperation can improve the experience for everyone involved. By using these seven pediatric distraction methods, you can help children feel more comfortable and less fearful during doctor visits.
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