Reducing Health Care Stressors for BMC’s Smallest Patients

The thought of a hospital visit can be very stressful and overwhelming for most people, whether the visit is quick or a complex illness causing a long stay. While adults are able to converse directly with providers and receive frequent and detailed updates regarding their health, it is substantially different for the hospital’s smallest patients. As children are prone to be more fearful and tend to need extra support in order to feel at ease during a hospital visit, it is imperative communication methods with pediatric patients are adjusted.

This is where the Child Life Program at Boston Medical Center steps in to help. The program has been a vital tool in addressing the needs of pediatric patients and helping alleviate stressors commonly associated with hospital visits. Child Life Manager Molly Ann Duggan explains, “Hospitalization can be such a disruption to life and add additional stress that can in turn comprise health care experiences.”

The Child Life program attempts to combat that with services aiding to support patients by reducing fear, anxiety and pain during this overwhelming time. Interventions such as preparing patients and families for surgery and medical tests, creating normative experiences in the unfamiliar environment, therapeutic play and psychosocial support for children and families affected by trauma are just a few examples.

These interventions have been implemented to make children more cooperative and less fearful when it comes to medical procedures, tests, doctor visits, etc. The team believes building a level of trust between themselves and patients is crucial in the effectiveness of these interventions. As each story differs vastly, the Child Life team works to assess the individual needs and concerns of each specific patient. Duggan says, “We are here to meet the family where they are during their health care experience to help maximize care and success.” Whether that means a child who is nervous about a doctor’s appointment or a patient who may have an upcoming surgery, the team is there assist in battling that fear and make sure their health care experience is the best it can possibly be.

Child Life Specialists are readily available to assist patients and families in many departments throughout the hospital, including the Emergency Department, Pediatric Inpatient and Intensive Care units, Otolaryngology Clinic and Operating room, Pediatric Ambulatory Clinic, Radiology and anywhere else they may be needed on a case-by-case basis. The specialists continue to be an integral part of the pediatrics team and an essential factor in caring for BMC’s patients. The result of their work and dedication is reflected by endless positive feedback by so many of BMC’s providers, patients and families. Duggan concludes, “One of the highlights of my job is to hear about the amazing impact that our team provides. I feel lucky to have such a skilled team and am so proud to be part of this growing field.”