Videogames–and child surgery

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 27th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Handheld video games often get criticized by parents concerned with both their content and the strong magnetic hold they can have on their kids. But hospitals are finding a valuable use for these devices… to help calm children in the operating room.

Normally kids undergoing surgery are given tranquilizers to relax them beforehand. They then receive anesthesia throughout the operation. Anesthesiologists say this can be a difficult process. Some parents don’t always want their kids to take sedatives and the anesthesia can take several minutes to begin working, a long time for a young person to hold still.

So, noting how absorbed children are with video games, some experts decided to introduce them into the operating room as a way of distracting kids before they go under the knife. The results were positive. And a formal study done by researchers at a New Jersey hospital found that hand-held devices can reduce kids’ anxiety even MORE effectively than drugs or a parent’s hand.

An anesthesiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was so inspired by similar observations that he’s working with an engineering design company to develop a headset that combines an entertainment system with a snorkel-like anesthesia mask. Its colorful, smooth form is modeled after kids’ candy, and provides a hook-up for handheld music or video devices. The product is years away from use in hospitals. But medical experts are already attesting to the power of distraction as a preoperative prescription for children.