While the position of certified child life specialist is relatively new in the healthcare field, more and more hospitals are recognizing the positive impact child life specialists can have on patient satisfaction.
Every child life specialist performs certain duties—for example, providing emotional support to pediatric patients during their hospital stay and advocating on behalf of the patient in discussions with the healthcare team. But there are those child life specialists who go above and beyond to ensure their patients have the best possible hospital experience.
Here are three things the best child life specialists do every day to help pediatric patients feel more comfortable while they’re in the hospital.
1. Create a Sense of Normalcy
Even a brief hospital visit is disruptive to a child’s normal life. Long-term hospital stays can be especially upsetting since they completely change the day-to-day activities a child is used to. Exceptional child life specialists collaborate with the patient’s healthcare team to create schedules that vary as little as possible so patients and their families know what to expect throughout the day. Having predictable patterns can help children feel more relaxed.
In addition to creating a set schedule, superior child life specialists provide opportunities for their patients to enjoy the kinds of games and activities they like outside of the hospital. This can further reduce the disruptive nature of long-term visits and encourage the child to feel more like a regular kid and less like a patient.
Child life specialists can also coordinate with the child’s school to find out what subjects are being discussed and what homework has been assigned so the patient doesn’t fall too far behind.
2. Demystify the Hospital
Even adults don’t understand many aspects of a hospital visit, such as the equipment, medications and the roles of certain staff members. Every child life specialist has been trained to use age-appropriate language to explain different procedures to pediatric patients, but the best child life specialists know medical play is an even better way to alleviate anxiety.
Medical play is a therapeutic approach that uses real and pretend medical equipment along with stuffed animals and dolls to help pediatric patients gain a better comprehension of the hospital as well as what is happening with their own bodies. Through medical play, children can discuss things they don’t understand, express their fears and concerns and learn techniques for coping with stress. Helping a pediatric patient get a better grasp on his or her plan of care can encourage him or her to feel more in control of their treatment, which can lead to improved outcomes.
3. Remember the Little Things
Pediatric patients (especially those with chronic conditions) may regularly face the discomfort of needle procedures such as IV starts. Though child life specialists do not perform these procedures, those with more experience know little things done beforehand will make a big impact:
- Let the patient choose whether they would rather be reclined or sitting up during the procedure. Sometimes when a child must lie on their back, it can make them feel more vulnerable and, in turn, increase their anxiety.
- Use a topical anesthetic to reduce pain. IV starts and needle procedures are among the most frequently reported painful events for children. By recommending that nurses use a skin refrigerant prior to these procedures, child life specialists help provide a better experience for pediatric patients.
Certified child life specialists are a valuable resource, particularly in hospitals where nurses may not be able to spend as much time with their patients as they would like. Not only do top-tier child life specialists support their individual pediatric patients, but by allowing nurses to focus on other aspects of care, they can also increase hospital efficiency overall.
For even more advice on how to provide a positive hospital experience for pediatric patients, download our free eBook, Young, Sick and Scared: How You Can Improve Pediatric Patient Comfort.