Hospitals have a way of making children feel vulnerable and afraid, especially when their visit involves surgery. Any time a child requires surgery, parents understandably get emotional. Fear, worry, stress, anxiety—these are all powerful reactions to pediatric medical procedures that healthcare professionals must handle with compassion.
Instinctively, healthcare professionals focus on physical health first. But mental health is scientifically proven to have a significant impact on physical wellbeing, which means it must also be a medical priority. Pediatric patients are particularly difficult to care for in this realm because sometimes they struggle to express how they’re feeling or advocate for what they want or need.
That’s where exceptional communication becomes a critical part of care. In most cases, it is the uncertainty about a surgical procedure that amplifies a pediatric patient’s emotions (and consequently, their parents’). With the right approach and communication skills, healthcare professionals can help younger patients feel less vulnerable and more included in their own treatment plan. Follow these tips on how to communicate with pediatric patients before surgery to make their hospital stay less traumatic.
1. Schedule a Pre-Op Tour
Invite your patient and their parents to the hospital for a tour of the facility and, specifically, a glimpse of the floor where they will reside during the surgical procedure. Introduce them to some of the nursing staff, namely the individuals who will be working during their stay. These introductions will help make the hospital feel more familiar and welcoming for both the patient and parents.
2. Talk with Parents AND Pediatric Patients
Leaving pediatric patients out of the conversation may make them feel as if they aren’t a part of their own treatment plan. Take plenty of time to talk to BOTH the parents and the patient. As you shift from the adult(s) to the child, tailor your explanation depending on the patient’s age and understanding. Present the treatment plan in an approachable way and speak in simple terms so the information is less intimidating and more digestible.
3. Provide Support & Resources
Give your patient and family plenty of time to ask questions. Keep in mind, the information you just divulged may be a lot to process all at once. Reassure them that all their questions will be answered, even the ones that come to mind later. If the procedure is particularly invasive and involves a lengthy recovery, other resources such as child life specialists and support groups may help them cope.
4. Be Reassuring
Children are particularly worried about experiencing pain, and even a needle prick can feel like a traumatic experience to them. Reassure your patient that you will take steps to help lessen pain. Tell them about how a topical anesthetic can make them more comfortable before an IV, or how anesthesia will make them go to sleep so they won’t feel anything during surgery.
5. Smile and Offer Words of Encouragement
These aren’t just patients—they’re children. A warm smile, some words of encouragement and a joke or playful gesture will go a long way in making them feel more at ease in your care.
6. Follow Up
It’s not always easy to check back with a patient after they’ve left your care. It’s likely you are already on to the next case, and schedules have a way of filling up fast. But try to remember, just because a patient left your immediate care doesn’t mean they (and their family) don’t need your support. Check in with your patient before, during and after surgery. It shows you truly care about their wellbeing and will help to ease stress or anxiety once surgery and recovery is under way.
Kindness and compassion make the difference between a hospital that feels intimidating and one that feels like a safe and welcoming haven for healing. When working with children, creating a positive experience is extremely important, as the memory of their stay will last a lifetime and could impact decisions about health issues in the future. Be informative but simplistic in your explanations. Offer patients and families continued support and provide them with every possible resource to help guide them through the experience. Above all, remember that you’re dealing with sick or injured children, which requires a softer, gentler approach to care.
Discover how you can continue to improve pediatric patient care in this free guide.