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What Distraction Techniques Might Help Decrease Patient Pain and Anxiety?

June 1, 2023

Many of us are always looking for strategies to help decrease patient pain and anxiety associated with procedures, such as vaccination or venipuncture. Non-pharmacologic techniques in particular would be appreciated. However, although I often try different strategies (lately, having children watch their favorite video while getting vaccines has been intermittently successful), I have not seen much literature regarding this.

This week, Pediatrics is early releasing an article that reviews various non-pharmacologic strategies, particularly distraction techniques. The article is entitled “Pediatric Distraction Tools for Prehospital Care of Pain and Distress: A Systematic Review,” by Natasha Robinson and colleagues at Monash University and Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia (10.1542/peds.2022-059910). 

The authors conducted a systematic review of distraction techniques used in emergency department settings that might be helpful in prehospital or outpatient settings.

A total of 29 articles were included in the review. The studies used different categories of techniques:

  • Digital: used electronic devices, such as virtual reality, audiobooks
  • Non-digital: used strategies such as music, toys, balloon blowing, bubble blowing
  • Active: used strategies such as child playing with a toy, blowing bubbles, or singing
  • Passive: used strategies such as listening to music or a book

You will be happy to know that, first of all, there were no significant negative effects. So you can try any of these strategies. Second, you don’t need expensive or fancy equipment, such as virtual reality – non-digital strategies were just as effective as digital strategies. In fact, the most consistently effective strategies were active, non-digital strategies.

Next time, try singing or having your patient blow bubbles while they’re getting vaccines! It’s definitely worth trying!

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