French Hospital Battles Anxiety with Toys

Jean Bernard Hospital

Jean Bernard Hospital in Valenciennes, France has begun a groundbreaking program to stem the fears of children preparing for surgery. Since December, the hospital has implemented a new plan involving toy cars to help keep their young patients calm.

The hospital uses toy cars instead of gurneys to move children from their hospital rooms to the operating rooms. Instead of tensing up with fear and anxiety, the children are able to feel relaxed as they wheel their tiny car into the operating room. Although the kids are in the driver's seat, the car is remotely controlled by hospital staff for safety. The hospital currently offers patients from eighteen months to eight years old a pick of their mini car collection.

The hospital's anesthesiologist Dr. Nabil El Beki says that the surgical department implemented the new scheme after similar programs in the United States and Australia were successful. Since they began using toy cars before surgery, hospital staff have drastically reduced the amount of anti-anxiety medication that they administer prior to surgery. Many patients who would normally cry and become agitated remain calm throughout their time in the hospital. Patients are also now able to come out of anesthesia more swiftly, without anti-anxiety medications slowing down their recovery time. Toy cars are also helpful in calming parents down, as they release their children into the hands of doctors.

Jean Bernard Hospital is not the only medical facility in France using alternative methods to distract their young patients. A hospital in the city of Rennes in Brittany has opted to appeal to children's penchant for tablet games with their special "You're the Hero" app. Children use the game to hunt down objects, distracting them from their coming surgery. Since debuting the app, doctors are prescribing 80% fewer anti-anxiety agents. Physicians have tested the app's effectiveness by asking children to select emoticons based on how they feel after playing with the app. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

The use of toy cars before surgery was pioneered in Australia in the late 1990s, although it remained confined to only a few hospitals. The practice spread after Dr. Linda Shields of Queensland's Charles Sturt University recommended it in her influential nursing manual Perioperative Care of the Child. Since then, toy cars have been used in a variety of hospitals, including Shriners Hospitals in the United States.

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