Jacksonville hospital pioneers 'distraction toolbox' to reduce stress for young patients

Jacksonville hospital pioneers 'distraction toolbox' to reduce stress for young patients

'Distraction toolboxes' are a relatively new approach to treating young patients with less pain medication and more communication.

UF Health Jax is pioneering the concept that aims to distract patients from their anxiety when being treated by medical staff. The program falls under the Pain Assessment Management Initiative, also known as PAMI.

Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Phyllis Hendry said children are sometimes so overwhelmed with stress that doctors struggle to diagnose their symptoms.

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“We’ll get a child who has been in an accident where they’ve been put on the backboard, and they’ve been brought in to the hospital. They’re very scared and they’re very anxious. They are crying, their heart rate is high, and they are in pain. (Doctors)  are trying to determine if they are injured, do they have internal injuries or are they just anxious,” Hendry said.

That’s where the distraction toolbox comes in.

The tools include an “I Spy” wand, stress ball or items that require children to use their muscles.

“You can’t really think about, ‘Oh, I’m in so much pain or I’m so scared’ when you’re doing some of these items at the same time,” Hendry said.

The toolkit equips providers and parents with ways to help decrease fear and spark patients' curiosity. The goal is to get kids to actively think about something else rather than fixate on their pain.

“Depending on the age of the child, the development stage and what is wrong with them depends on how we use the toolkit," Hendry said. "Obviously, a child with sickle cell disease who has chronic pain you have to use different 'tools' than a child who comes in in a car accident."

In the pediatric emergency room, the distraction toolbox is full of goodies for children ranging from infant to teen.

“We know your first experience with pain really affects how you deal with pain the rest of your life,” Hendry said.

Inside the toolkit, pictures of charts help patients who are nonverbal communicate their stress, and a noise-making keychain to help lighten the mood.

“As soon as you make that noise, they’re going to stop looking at you and you can see how they’re breathing,” Hendry said.

Her team was an integral part behind making the innovative idea a reality for hospitals, ambulances and emergency doctors.