"The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard.”1 - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
As a former pediatric nurse and expert witness for child protection services, I’ve spent a lot of time caring for children in the hospital and home setting. I know one of the greatest things I’ve learned is that we as caregivers can empower children during difficult situations. The need to support the wellbeing of children extends beyond healthcare: It is a universal initiative.
Universal Children’s Day on Nov. 20—unlike the traditional Mother’s Day or Father’s Day recognized in the United States— was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954. All countries are encouraged to promote not only mutual exchange and understanding among children, but also to initiate action to benefit and uphold the wellbeing of children around the world.
Children in the U.S. may not always face the same frightening conditions as elsewhere in the world. But this day helps us to remember that we as clinicians still have a responsibility to create an atmosphere that supports the children under our care. We know that the less stress and anxiety a child has, the better their ability to cope in a stressful situation. Hospitalization is one of the stressful situations that we can do something about.
Improving patient experience is already a major target for hospitals, and hospitals are measured and paid based on HCAHPS surveys completed by adult patients. In October 2014, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality posted a pediatric version of the HCAHPS survey. This pediatric survey is under review this year as a possible benchmark on which to base hospitals’ Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program reimbursements, leading to the expectation that this pediatric HCAHPS survey will ultimately factor into reimbursement as the adult equivalent does now for Medicare.2
Now is the time to be thinking about how to address this special population. The ways you care for children in your facility can go a long way toward producing a positive experience for both the patient and their loved ones.
Make the Hospital A Safe Place for Children
We all know hospitals can be a very scary place for anyone, let alone children. A child doesn’t know what to expect, and is constantly meeting new strangers. He or she may not understand what’s happening to them. They could be experiencing pain from their illness, the treatment, or both.
So how do we make the hospital a place where a child can feel safe, participate, and be heard? You can make a big impact with small changes: Start with what they’re wearing. Pajamas are a great source of comfort, and while the child’s personal pajamas may not be an option, your facility can still stock pediatric gowns that promote comfort and modesty, have kid-friendly prints, and feel soft like the pajamas they may wear at home. Consider pediatric gowns with MRI-safe plastic snaps that negate multiple gown changes.
While using pediatric gowns that evoke the comforts of home, also be sure that a child’s hospital bed is a safe place. Avoid performing any painful treatments while they are in their hospital beds so that it remains a haven that they can trust.
You can also help by communicating directly with your patients. Talk to them, not at or above them, so they understand what is happening. Speak at their level, both intellectually and physically, crouching or sitting down to look them in the eye.
You may even choose to draw pictures to help demonstrate what is going on inside their bodies or a treatment they are about to experience. Many children "play nurse or doctor” at home; offer to let them participate in their care by holding the stethoscope, counting with you for their pulse or heartbeat, or perhaps picking a favorite color for a bandage or cast. Your conversation may also help distract them from their pain. The fun prints on their gown featuring friendly animals or characters could be a conversation starter in itself. Ask them about pets, sports, movies, or their funniest joke. A good belly laugh does wonders for the soul!
Good communication involves good listening. Take the time to hear what a child says to you. You could learn that something as simple as a special toy or a quick trip outside for some fresh air could make him or her feel better.
Listening and observing may also help you uncover any signs of abuse. If you observe these signs, stay calm and report the suspected abuse immediately per your facility protocols.
You Make a Difference
Every day, clinicians make a big difference in the lives of the children they care for. Make yours a good difference. Delivering extraordinary care to our children can change lives, helping them grow up to be healthy and successful adults who can protect the next generation of youth around the world.
1. Universal Children’s Day. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/events/childrenday/. Accessed October 15, 2015.
2. CMS may use new child HCAHPS to adjust Medicaid hospital pay. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150108/NEWS/301089948. Accessed October 15, 2015.
Martie L. Moore is chief nursing officer of Medline Industries, Inc. based in Mundelein, Ill, a leading provider of medical products and clinical solutions across the continuum of care. In this role, Moore provides nursing leadership for solution-driven clinical programs, delivers product development to enhance bedside practice and launches quality initiatives across the continuum of care. With what she learned during the nearly 30 years of clinical experience and extensive executive leadership, Moore now develops forward-thinking solutions and programs for those in the field today.