From scary to safe: child-friendly ER

6/8/2017  By HealthNews

June 8, 2017

We probably can't erase your child's fear of the unknown. But we can make emergency care less scary.

Raise your hand if you think a trip to the emergency room sounds like fun.

Now, take that thought and apply it to your child. What seems unpleasant to us can be downright terrifying for them. But as you probably know from experience, kids often need emergency care.

Child emergencies are going to happen. How can we make the experience feel less scary and more safe?

It starts with the environment, something one local clinic effectively puts into practice. "We've tried to make our décor 'low key,'" says Dr. Elise Herman of Ellensburg Pediatrics. "We use soft earth tones, animal mobiles in each room, children's books for kids to look at. Each room has its own theme, the Cowboy/Cowgirl Room, the Hawaii Room, the Pacific Northwest Animal Room. They have an overall relaxing effect and even help some kids to look forward to their visits."

On a much smaller scale, KVH Hospital employs a similar tactic in Room 8 of the Emergency Department, with some comfort toys and a wall mural. But recent fundraising efforts are helping bring a more robust child-friendly approach to both the look and feel of emergency pediatric care.

"Emergency care is a 'scary unknown' for children," says KVH Emergency Director Dede Utley. "We want to make their experience as pleasant as possible."

Enter Ouchless ER.

According to Utley, the concept has been around since at least 1999, mainly in larger facilities, with the goal to eliminate as much stress for children and families as possible. Once KVH's emergency department protocols and procedures are in place, Utley sees them being used in clinics and other areas of the hospital where children are treated.

In recent months, Utley admits to contacting "everyone and every place I can think of" about successfully implemented child-friendly ER care. She points to Prosser's PMH Medical Center as a prime example of Ouchless ER done right.

Utley's networking efforts are paying off: this summer, her department will be trained in child growth and development by a PMH Child Life Specialist. "I think it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship," says Utley. "We're thrilled to have made this connection and hope to continue working with this specialist in a resource role for KVH."

In addition to a dedicated child-friendly room and trained staff, Utley has begun to invest in technology that aids in child-friendly medical care, such as AccuVein, a handheld device that projects a "lit-up map" of a patient's veins on the surface of the skin and improves the not-fun-for-little-patients process of drawing blood or placing an IV.

Traditional distraction techniques such as providing stuffed animals will continue. Additionally, kid-friendly e-tablets will soon be available for families who arrive at the ER and need access to the games and movies that help keep their kids calm and happy.

What does child-friendly care look like? Parents as members on their child's care team.

Some child-friendly changes don't cost a dime, such as bringing parents into the care process as appropriate. Think again about your child - would she rather get that shot in a patient bed, or while being held in your arms?

Dr. Herman agrees with this approach. "When something's uncomfortable, having the parent physically involved usually makes kids - and parents - more comfortable. If the parent feels prepared to do it, having them hold their child on their lap for a vaccine is ideal."

This method of including parents can have benefits outside of the healthcare environment, adds Herman. "If kids are doing okay in the clinic, parents feel good about us and their kids and even their ability to handle challenging situations." She smiles, "We know we're doing something right when our patients grow up and one day bring their own children to our office."

Video: Prosser's "Ouch Less ER"

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.