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Distraction station at Baltimore children’s hospital key to better experience for young patients

Monday November 5, 2012
The distraction station at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore.
The distraction station at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore.
(Photo courtesy of Carl Caruso, Caruso Studios)
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Nancy Baker, RN
Starting IVs, inserting nasal gastric tubes or providing other uncomfortable care for children often was an unsettling experience for nurses at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore.

The nurses had to ask colleagues to leave other patients and help restrain the children, who would kick and scratch during procedures that were frightening for them, said Nancy Baker, RN, BSN, CPN, clinical leader at the Baltimore hospital.

"The patient always felt we were the bad guys," Baker said.

But since March, when the hospital added a station of engaging tools that distract youngsters, patients have been calmer and nurses have been able to perform procedures without requiring additional staff, Baker said.

The station — officially called the Vecta Distraction Station — doesn’t prevent children from crying, but it makes the experience less upsetting than before, said Laura Cohen, BS, CCLS, coordinator of child life services.

Play time at the hospital

The distraction station is a multi-sensory machine on wheels with a projector that displays a diver underwater looking at sea creatures. It plays CDs with soothing sounds, such as heartbeats for babies, and provides aromatherapy. It also showcases bubbles in a tube that can change color when a child squeezes a ball, as well as fiber optic cables that twinkle and change colors.

Nurses bring the station in when they have consultations with patients’ families and when they perform procedures, Baker said. Giving children the ability to have some control — over the color of the bubbles, for example — is a way to include them in their care, she said. Using the station, nurses aim to make patients’ experiences as positive as possible, Cohen added.

"They look at it as play time," Baker said, adding that if and when patients have to return to the hospital, they aren’t as afraid.


Laura Cohen
Healing physical and emotional pain

Fear generated from undergoing hospital treatments at such early ages can affect patients throughout their lives.

"Early hospitalization is related to the genesis of both depressive illness and intractable pain" in older children after early hospitalization, according to one study on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website, "Childhood hospitalization and chronic intractable pain in adults: a controlled retrospective study."

But distractions can play an important part of reducing children’s perceived pain. "Distraction had a positive effect on children’s distress behavior across the populations" according to another study, "Effects of distraction on children’s pain and distress during medical procedures: a meta-analysis."

Even something as simple as having the child blow a feather while they’re getting a vaccination shot "has been shown to [lessen] the amount of pain perceived by the child," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As hospitals increase their focus on patient-centered care, distraction stations are becoming more popular, Cohen said.

Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai hopes to use the station to prevent patients from developing fears that can affect their care. For example, the hospital treated a 6-month-old infant who needed treatment because the mother had not received any prenatal care because of a fear of needles, Cohen said.

Nurses talk with the patients’ families and personalize the station’s distractions for each child, Cohen said.

"You can’t just turn it on," she said.

That patient-specific care made a difference for a 4-year-old who played with the bubble column while undergoing a nerve conduction study and to the 7-year-old girl who had a developmental disability but was soothed by the station’s bubbles, Cohen said. It also helped a 4-year-old sit still through a two-hour CT scan.

"It makes them not so scared of us," Baker said.

Karen Long is a freelance writer.


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