Push for 'Ouchless' Emergency Rooms for Kids

Reported by Dr. Julielynn Wong:

Parents, your next trip to the hospital emergency room may be a little less painful, thanks to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report authors reviewed nearly 250 medical studies to provide guidance on how to reduce pain and stress for babies and kids in the emergency room.

"We've gotten a lot better at managing kids' pain," said author Dr. Joel Fein, an emergency room doctor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "We need to do everything we can."

Fein had three good reasons to improve ER visits for kids: his three sons.

"I want my child to have the best experience possible without being fearful of the medical system," he said.

The report, published today in the journal Pediatrics, outlines simple ways to reduce pain and stress in emergency rooms, including the use of pain pills and numbing creams in the waiting room. It also recommends distracting kids with bubbles and sugar pacifiers during painful tests.

Letting a family member stick around can also have a calming effect, according to the report.

"Although there is no evidence that family presence decreases pain, their presence for procedures can decrease child distress," Fein and colleagues wrote in their report.

While pain management in adults has come a long way, Fein said pain control in children - particularly babies - lags far behind.

Some experts say pain can have lasting effects on a child's perception of medical care.

"When kids are subjected to emotional distress due to painful procedures, there's evidence to suggest they can have lasting emotional scarring," said Dr. Michael Kim, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who was not involved with the new report. "That's why kids are scared of doctors. … This could cause problems in seeking healthcare."

While the report provides expert guidance for doctors and nurses, it can be helpful for parents, too.

"Parents are the best advocates for their children," said Dr. Baruch Krauss, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved with the report. "They can tell when their child is anxious or in pain."

"By raising awareness of the resources available," Krauss added, "it helps parents know what to do and what to ask for."