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news News Wednesday, August 1, 2018 Wednesday, August 1, 2018 2:37 PM - Wednesday, August 1, 2018 2:37 PM

Medical play helps patients cope with anxieties

Playing doctor can help patients learn more about their own hospital experience

Medical play helps patients cope with anxieties

For many of our patients, their care at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia often involves surgical intervention or clinical experiences that might be new or seem scary for a child. To help patients cope with the anxiety and fear that could accompany a medical procedure, our dually-certified child life specialists and recreational therapists use medical play to help patients feel more comfortable in these situations.

Medical play typically includes playing with real and pretend medical equipment in a safe environment. With supervision from a child life specialist or recreational therapist, these activities can be used to prepare a patient for a medical procedure and alleviate any fears or misconceptions they may have about their situation.

“Medical play is utilized when it’s developmentally appropriate for patients,” said Marin Sweeney, a recreational therapy/child life student at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital. For younger children, these activities often include dressing up as a doctor and using clinical equipment on stuffed animals.

Recently, child life and recreational therapy staff hosted a Teddy Bear Clinic in the hospital’s outpatient clinic. Patients were able to wear lab coats, surgical hats and gloves, and chose a stuffed animal to be their patient for the day. They gave their stuffed animal an injection, checked its heartbeat with a stethoscope, tended to any wounds or injuries it might have, and sent it through a pretend MRI machine.

Throughout the process, patients were encouraged to ask questions about the medical equipment and Sweeney prompted patients to explain the care they were providing to their animals and to share what kind of feelings their animals might be having.

“It opens up a dialogue,” said Sweeney, who helped facilitate the Teddy Bear Clinic. “These activities give patients a language that they can use to help understand what they may experience during their hospital stay.”

After their exam, patients were able to make a prognosis on their animal friend and everyone came out with a clean bill of health.

“It’s a great time to explore any anxieties or fears a patient may have,” said Recreational Therapist Mary Ann Roberto. By taking charge of their stuffed animals’ examination, our patients were hopefully able to feel more in control of their own care.

“When patients have the freedom to express their imagination through medical play in a welcoming environment, it can positively impact their experience in the hospital,” said Kaitlin Applegate, a child life student at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital. “It gives the patient a chance to have fun, but also learn at the same time.”

Research shows that children who feel prepared for medical procedures experience less fear and anxiety and have better long-term adjustment to medical challenges. When patients engage in medical play, they tend to exhibit less emotional distress and increased cooperation with their caregivers.

“Many of our patients stay within our medical system for a long time, and it’s crucial for patients to be well-adjusted and comfortable in the long term,” said Roberto. “Medical play can really help a patient cope with their experiences in ways that will benefit them as they progress with us.”

patients and staff members operating on teddy bears

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