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Mobile devices improve pre-op experience for children

Tagged In:  Hospital, NHS, Nursing, Radiography

A recent study shows that playing games on an iPad is just as effective as a pre-anaesthesia sedative in calming children and reassuring parents.


Kids love technology. And the fact that it can have a calming effect on them will come as no surprise to parents. Many rely on their trusty tablets to get through a long car or plane journey without the inevitable arguments and calls of 'Are we there yet?'.

iPad as effective as pre-operative sedatives

Now French researchers have confirmed the pacifying effects of the iPad in a study of children aged 4-10 having ambulatory surgery under general anaesthetic. Their conclusion? That playing age-appropriate games on a tablet is as effective as the sedative midazolam in countering pre-op anxiety in children. As for parents, it's more reassuring for them to see their child chilling out playing computer games than being artificially relaxed by a drug.

Anxiety levels were measured by two independent psychologists at three stages in the pre-op process: arrival at hospital, separation from parents and induction of anaesthetic, with nurses ranking the quality of induction on a scale of 9 to 10. Children and parents were also assessed after being transferred to the ambulatory surgery ward. Both parents and nurses found anaesthesia more satisfying in the group who had used iPads rather than being given a sedative.

Wider use of video games in recovery

This is not the first study of its kind. In 2006, researchers at the USA's New Jersey Medical School found that 'a hand-held video game can be offered to most children as a low cost, easy to implement, portable, and effective method to reduce anxiety in the preoperative area and during induction of anesthesia'.

Video games are also being used effectively in other areas of healthcare. The Nintendo Wii has been so frequently used in helping patients recover from illness and injury that its use has become known as 'Wii-habilitation'. And many speech therapists are now using iPad apps as much as they are physical props such as dolls, balls and flashcards. A review of evidence in 2010 concluded that playing video games improved 69% of psychological therapy outcomes, 59% of physical therapy outcomes, 42% of pain distraction outcomes and 37% of disease self-management outcomes. These are dramatic results that could help to lift burdens on workers in diverse roles, from District Nurses to Education Psychologists to a CPN.

Around 19 million tablets were sold worldwide in 2010. By 2020 that figure is expected to rise to 194 million – over 30 times the population of Denmark. It's no that wonder younger people are so comfortable interacting with their mobile devices. They've become an integral part of modern life.

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