Program At Children’s Hospital Aims To Ease Needle Fears

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For many, it’s ranked right up there with public speaking, spiders, and heights — the fear of needles.

For some, the only thing worse than getting a shot, is watching your child get one.

On average, babies get 18 needle pricks in their first year of life, and childhood is when the fear of needles is often formed.

A local doctor is trying to make the process painless, and what people of all ages can do make their next needle a little nicer.

If you walk into the Hematology and Oncology Lab at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, you might hear some singing. On one particular May morning, “Old Mc Donald” was the song of choice — Jane and Jeremy Fisher of Bloomington were singing to 4-year-old Lydia, with the help of her beloved nurse, Karen.

Two parents and a nurse joining in song seems simple enough, but when it comes to Lydia, nothing is as it seems.

“To look at her, you would never know that she has cancer,” Jane said.

She’s wrapping up a two year chemo treatment fighting leukemia, and a stint as a Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis regular.

“She looks forward to clinic,” Jeremy said.

That may be surprising, since this is one of the least anticipated places a family can end up.

Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf specializes in pain and palliative care at the hospital.

“We found out hands down the pain kids were most afraid — and what did least well was needle pokes, vaccinations, lab draws and intravenous access,” Friedrichsdorf said.

He says one in four adults is needle-phobic, and this is the age when it often starts.

“The old and wrong thinking was that we have to be fast, we have to hold down the child and then we put the needle in,” Friedrichsdorf said.

He says it’s a fear that could grow with them in some very bad ways.

“They’re afraid of needles, which has catastrophic consequences because they may forgo vaccination,” Dr. Friedrichsdorf said. “They may choose not to seek out a doctors help if they find a strange lump on strange parts of the body because they’re afraid that a needle may occur there.”

So Friedrichsdorf and a team of nurses and phlebotomists are intravenously intervening by implementing a one of a kind approach at two Twin Cities Children’s Hospitals called “The Comfort Promise.”

The program lets kids choose how they take their needles. They get a checklist: Do they want to numb their skin? Where do they want to sit? How can they take it and feel the best?

“It’s very important to offer choices,” Friedrichsdorf said. “One of the worst things for a child coming to the hospital is being out of control.”

Choice One: Numbing

When it comes to choice one, an over-the-counter lidocaine cream can be applied 30 minutes before the shot.

Another patient, Dean, gets needles every other day for a chronic illness. He decided to go with the cream.

“With the numbing cream, they’re not as bad,” he said.

Choice Two: Positioning

Kids can sit wherever and with whomever they choose.

“If I ask a 4-year-old girl Claire, ‘would you like to be held down on a stretcher by 3 adults, or would you like to sit on Mommy’s lap’, what is she going to answer?” Friedrichsdorf said.

Choice Three: Distraction

“Using age appropriate distraction, bubble blowing, using little apps on a smart phone on a tablet, reading a book, all these kind of things actually distract children,” Friedrichsdorf said. “They feel pain much much much less.”

Choice Four: Sugar Water

“Giving sugar water about 2-4 minutes before you do a vaccination, before you draw blood, before you put in an intravenous access actually decreases significantly pain in babies.” Friedrichsdorf said.

They are rolling out the program over the next year and while it’s not always fool-proof, he says kids are not feeling the difference.

“I’m certain that if we do the right thing, that nearly all children will be able to run away with a smile,” Friedrichsdorf said. “I’ve seen this.”

Friedrichsdorf is traveling the world, trying to grow this pain program internationally.

For adults who are needle nervous, he suggests using a simple lidocaine pin/itch over the counter cream on your arm before you go in to the doc, and to use your smartphone to distract yourself.

More from Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield
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