BANGOR, Maine — Surgery can be very scary for children who are not old enough to understand what is happening or why they are in the hospital. But what if technology could be used to ease a child’s anxiety and reduce or eliminate the need for sedatives before and after surgery? Eastern Maine Medical Center is exploring the answer to this question through a new program that connects some of the hospital’s youngest surgical patients with iPads during their most anxious moments.
“We have purchased nine iPads for our operating rooms thanks to the generous support of EMHS Foundation Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” says Felix Hernandez, MD, MMM, FACS, the medical director of the Operating Room at EMMC. “We’re excited to see if our experience will match that of hospitals in other parts of the country that have used them for this purpose. We will be monitoring their use, and we’ll soon know if they can be effective at relaxing our patients, reducing fear, and decreasing recognition of pain. We anticipate this may allow us to use sedatives more sparingly.”
EMMC’s iPad program is modeled after a similar initiative at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, where researchers have found that tablet computers can successfully distract children during pediatric procedures. Other research studies are underway, including a study at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago that suggests iPads may be more effective than sedatives and that children who are given an iPad before surgery go home from the hospital sooner.
EMMC’s child life specialists have selected apps for the devices that are age appropriate, compelling, easy to use, and free of violence. They feel the iPads can be used to reduce fear and anxiety, although they caution the devices will not replace the roles played by engaged parents, child life specialists, and other members of the healthcare team before and after surgery.
“We believe the devices can be useful when combined with the things we already do to make our patients as comfortable as possible before and after surgery,” said Amy Baker, CCLS, child life specialist. “It’s another useful tool we can offer our patients. We think they will be well received.”
EMMC has developed procedures to ensure that iPads don’t get lost as they travel with the patient from one area of the hospital to another. The iPads are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use. Hard shell cases protect the devices from accidental damage.