Healthcare News & Insights

How to make your hospital’s ER more child-friendly

Is your hospital doing everything it can to make its youngest patients as comfortable as possible when they’re brought to the emergency room?

Whether or not your hospital specializes in pediatrics, it’s a given that your emergency department will treat children and adolescents with various ailments, and it may be difficult to properly assess the level of pain they’re feeling.

According to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s pain is often underestimated in hospitals’ emergency departments because children may have difficulty conveying the severity of their symptoms.

So kids don’t always get the appropriate pain management they need.

If that wasn’t enough, the general anxiety of the ER experience only heightens children’s pain, the report says. Children may be confused about what’s happening to them and why they’re being poked and prodded by doctors, so this may make them even more uncomfortable.

Focused training

As one way to make ER treatment easier on children, emergency department staff should be trained on how to best interact with them to reduce their anxiety. Training should focus on techniques such as:

  • Telling children what they should expect during their treatment and encouraging them to ask questions
  • Showing them the medical supplies doctors and nurses will be using
  • Offering them choices, when it’s appropriate, and
  • Giving them a special role or job when performing a medical procedure.

Besides training your staff, here are a few other things your hospital can do to make children’s experiences at the ER even better.

  • Bring a child-life specialist on staff. This employee can be valuable to decreasing children’s anxiety and improving communication between the child, family members and physicians. A child-life specialist can teach children techniques to reduce their stress and explain treatment plans to them in a developmentally appropriate, understandable way.
  • Create kid-friendly spaces. Dedicate a small section of your emergency department as a place for children, with colorful walls and furniture, and toys and games for children to play with. During procedures, have toys such as pinwheels or bubble blowers on hand to distract children. Child-pleasing music and videos can also be played in procedure rooms.
  • Allow family members to be present during procedures. Children may feel more comfortable receiving painful procedures if parents or other family members are with them. You may also wish to encourage doctors to let parents “coach” their kids through the procedure, reassuring them that things will be fine.

Pain scales

Additionally, ER doctors should be fully trained on the best methods to assess children’s pain. The report suggests that ER doctors use either the FACES pain scale, the Wong-Baker Faces scale or the Visual Analog Scale, as these tend to give the most accurate results.

The Neonatal Infant Pain Scale can be used to evaluate most newborns. For infants, the FLACC (face, legs, activity, crying and consolability) scale can be used to assess their pain levels.

For children with developmental disabilities that limit their ability to communicate, the use of the Non-communicating Children’s Pain Checklist-Revised or the Individual Numeric Rating Scale is suggested.

And, when attempting to treat a child’s pain, don’t forget to let your staff know about the importance of listening to young patients and their families. Parents especially know when something is amiss with their child, so if a parent expresses a concern regarding a child’s treatment, address it as soon as possible.

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