Alberta Children's Hospital improves communication to ease patient's pain

Calgary nurses and doctors have come up with ways to ease the pain of emergency room visits at Alberta Children's Hospital and help kids communicate with doctors.

Young patients are given tablets, toys and other tools to help manage pain

Dr. Jennifer Thull-Freedman is a pediatric emergency physician working in the comfort care program. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Calgary nurses and doctors have come up with ways to ease the pain of emergency room visits at Alberta Children's Hospital by helping kids communicate with doctors.

Under the Commitment to Comfort program, posters of treatment options are put up throughout the emergency department. There's also a small pain scale to help patients describe their pain so medical staff can provide the right level of care.

The young patients can choose from an ice pack, warm blanket, toys or pain medication that doesn't require a needle.

"Sometimes we would ask a child if they wanted a pain medication and they would say no but it was actually because they thought we would be bringing a needle," said Dr. Jennifer Thull-Freedman, an emergency doctor.

"By putting on our posters that we have numbing creams before needles, we hope that families know that they can ask for it even if we might forget to offer it." 

Last fall, physicians asked parents and their children how satisfied they were with pain treatment and found 18 per cent said their pain was not addressed well. Since the program launched in the spring, that number has been reduced to five per cent.

Cathy Smith, child life specialist, plays with Lindsay McKay's five-year-old daughter Micah, using a tablet at the Alberta Children's Hospital. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Lindsay McKay brought in her five-year-old daughter Micah to check on a wrist-injury from ice-skating just before Christmas. The little girl played with a tablet while waiting to be seen.

"It's comforting knowing that this service is here just because she's kind of an introvert and a little bit shy." 

McKay said her daughter felt more at ease with available distractions like colouring books and an iPad.

After breaking his arm while playing hockey, 14-year-old Donald Powell says he was nervous at first when he went into the emergency room.

"They made me feel pretty at ease," said Powell.

Emergency doctors say they are working towards having 100 per cent satisfaction with pain management. 

There are plans to expand the program to other departments, as well as emergency departments throughout Calgary in the spring.


  • In an earlier version of this story, Cathy Smith was misidentified in a photo a patient's mother.
    Jan 07, 2016 5:06 PM MT