DALLAS, July 25, 2014 — The prescription for helping alleviate stress and anxiety in hospitalized children may not be one which is filled in the pharmacy. Instead, the preferred recommendation may just need a few taps on a tablet.
A new program promoting video interaction with family, friends and schoolmates by hospitalized children is being launched at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and research has shown the virtual connections can be advantageous.
Children’s BalloonTime, using Apple’s FaceTime, is a video-calling technology which allows compatible devices a live audio and video connection with family and friends to help alleviate anxiety and stress during an extended hospital stay. BalloonTime is initially targeted for patients in Children’s Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Studies have shown patients have benefited from being more relaxed by staying virtually connected with extended family and friends. Children’s Child Life Department, who will oversee the program, will also ask parents to answer brief questions regarding the perceived stress levels of their child prior to, and following the BalloonTime sessions.
The iPads being used in the program were acquired partially by funds donated by Texas Rangers pitcher, Derek Holland. Other donations could help increase the number of iPads available to the program.
Although many families may already have smartphones and other devices capable of performing FaceTime, the Child Life Department hopes the BalloonTime program will reinforce the benefits of patients staying connected to loved ones and friends during an extended stay. Patients are not required to use the hospital’s devices to make the virtual connections.
“Our hope is that with further community support, we will eventually be able to offer this program hospital wide,” says Doug Hock, President and Chief Operations Officer at Children’s.
“At Children’s, we understand time spent in the hospital can be stressful,” Hock says. “We strive to be at the forefront of the best practices in pediatric medicine. BalloonTime is in line with what current research would recommend.”
A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatrics, June 20, 2014 issue) evaluated over 367 children and the use of video conferencing during extended hospitalization. The conclusion of the study was that the use of video conferencing by some hospitalized children and families to conduct virtual visits with family and friends outside of the hospital was associated with a greater reduction in stress during hospitalization than those who did not use video conferencing, noted Laura Swaney, Senior Director for Hospital Outreach Services at Children’s.
The program is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is monitored by a child life assistant.
Cell phones and Internet access may also help children keep in touch with friends while recovering, helping to ease the transition back to daily life and a return to the classroom, according to the American Cancer Society.