When it comes to medical imaging why won't kids just smile for the camera? Children have trouble staying still at the best of times and when feeling unwell, unfamiliar experiences can become especially daunting. Their parents are often anxious too, about their child's health and radiation risks. As children can have increased risks from radiation exposure so it's important that scans are completed with a minimum number of takes. So how do we get kids to comply?
Paediatric hospitals have the benefit of staff who are trained and experienced with kids. Many employ Child Life Therapists specifically to prepare children for procedures like scans and help them to develop coping strategies. University trained Child Life Therapists have extensive knowledge of both child development and medical procedures. This places them in a unique position to bring the two together as harmoniously as possible.
But what about the non-paediatric facilities where staff are trained for, and treat, mostly adults? In 2012 The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists approved a new policy on Paediatric Imaging to guide those clinicians in how to limit radiation, trauma and possible pain to children in their care. It is also recommended reading for parents wanting to understand the options for children but please note the ages mentioned are a guide only. Younger children have achieved successful scans without sedation and appropriate preparation. For further research read here: Minimising the use of anaesthesia / sedation in paediatric imaging and radiotherapy : The role of play therapy and patient education or if you want quick information, see our tips below …
When your child needs a scan: How you can navigate these potential pitfalls.
with the doctor: is the scan necessary? Is it need immediately? Are there any alternatives with less
- If booking with a private radiology practice for a non-urgent scan, ask if Radiography staff have experience with children. How, specifically, do they help kids with scans? If you don't feel assured of a child friendly approach, then shop around (if possible).
- Check in advance whether the scan requires an injection of contrast. This will allow you to prepare your child for every aspect of their treatment.
- If yes, then request a numbing cream such as Emla or LMX4 be used.
- Is your child needle phobic? Discreetly let the staff know. If child life therapists are not available, try distracting your child with a book, game, or reassuring words.
There are instances where it's necessary to sedate children, either to avoid pain or because zero movement can occur.
- Check the necessity for sedation, which type, and the risks associated.
- Prepare your child for having that type of sedation
- If general anaesthetic will be used, prepare your child for an overnight hospital stay.
4) BREATH HOLDS:
- Is your child required to perform breath holds for their scan? These are generally needed for abdominal and chest scans. Learning this skill in advance of scanning helps the radiographer get the pictures they need. This means less retakes and less radiation.
- Take the time to coach your child in breath holding in advance. Try to make it fun by doing it in the bath or pool, using counting games and blowing bubbles.
5) WAITING LISTS:
- Non-urgent scans at paediatric hospitals may involve waiting lists. If you’d like the scan sooner ask your referring doctor if it can be done by another hospital or clinic. Consider your options in consultation with them.
For further assistance with preparing children for scans and injections, or appropriate distraction techniques during those procedures, contact Child Life Therapy at your child's hospital. If attending a private clinic you can consult a Child Life Therapist in private practice.
Blog written by: Renee Campbell
Renee Campbell is a university trained, registered Child Life Therapist with the Australian Child Life Therapy Association (ACLTA) and a member of the ACLTA Certification Committee.
Renee has over 7 years’ experience as a Child Life Therapist (formerly Play Therapist) at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick (SCH) where she helped establish their MRI Play Therapy program. In that time she conducted research into children’s coping in medical imaging and helped children as young as 4yrs old to have their scans without anaesthetic.
Currently, Renee remains employed at SCH part-time in the Medical Day Unit assisting children and adolescents to cope with invasive procedures. She also has a private practice helping children with healthcare needs and parents of newborns with sleep guidance.