Parents less anxious about child's medical treatment when they can watch

Children's Hospital at Strong invites some parents to stay during procedures

September 15, 1999

Parents who are allowed to stay in their child's hospital room during medical procedures are less anxious about the process, although their concern about the child's condition remains the same.

These conclusions - from researchers at Children's Hospital at Strong of the University of Rochester - are drawn from a study of 16 parents who were invited to stay with their child and watch, for example, as doctors inserted chest tubes, breathing tubes, and central venous catheters.

The findings are published in today's issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a member of the Journal of the American Medical Association family of publications. The Children's Hospital at Strong study had two main objectives. First, researchers wanted to find out if allowing parents to stay in the hospital room during invasive procedures reduced the stress and anxiety that parents normally experience when their child is in the pediatric intensive care unit. Secondly, the study was intended to evaluate whether the parents' presence was helpful to the child and parents, or harmful to the nurses and physicians.

Researchers found that, by allowing parents to stay in the room while they treated the child, parental anxiety related to the procedure was significantly reduced. No difference in condition-related anxiety was detected between the study group and the control group. "I think the prospect of not knowing what is happening to their child is very uncomfortable for most parents," says Karen Powers, M.D., who did the study with the help of Jeffrey Rubenstein, M.D. "When we invited them to stay with us in the room, even though they were still concerned about their child's condition, they were less anxious about the procedure."

Parents have traditionally been asked to leave during invasive procedures in the pediatric intensive care unit. Although many experienced pediatricians are comfortable having a parent observe some medical procedures, it is standard practice for parents to be asked to go to the waiting room.

In this study, almost all parents thought their presence was a comfort to their child, Powers says. Many found that the procedure was less intimidating than what they had imagined. In fact, no parents left the room while the procedures were being performed, despite clear opportunities to do so. Fifteen of the 16 parents said they would repeat their choice to watch.

"They weren't sitting in the waiting room, wondering what was taking so long," Powers says. 'They weren't sitting there with nothing to do but let their imagination run wild. Instead, they were right there with us, and they had the chance to see how hard people were working, how much effort they gave to try to help their child."

Some doctors at Children's Hospital at Strong are routinely allowing parents to stay with their child during some medical procedures, but Powers says the implications of such a policy change on the pediatric intensive care unit staff needs more evaluation.

"It can be done safely without the danger of contamination," Power says. "At no time did I think a parent was in the way. We don't think it interfered with our performance at all. We can do this compassionately and comfortably for the kids."

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