A Painful Topic: Treating Childhood Pain Through Better Technology

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sarah Rebstock, MD, is a fellowship trained pediatric anesthesiologist, director of the Pain Medicine Care Complex.

Unfortunately, because no one wants to think about a child living in pain, all we know about chronic pain in children is that between 25 to 40 percent of children under age 18 will experience daily pain for three months or more.

As a fellowship trained pediatric anesthesiologist and pain medicine practitioner, I’ve seen enough children living with this type of pain to know this is the tip of the iceberg. As a mom, I can’t imagine how difficult life is for these children and their families, many of whom have suffered for six months or more.

By the time families come to our new Pain Medicine Care Complex, they’ve seen as many as 15 specialists and their children have undergone countless diagnostic tests, without getting any definitive answers for why their kids hurt. By the time a child is referred to our program, often, they believe that the pain will never go away again.

This fact motivates me to work toward finding better solutions for these kids as soon as possible. We are treating pain using the best available research we have, and also using new child-focused methods that show promise to improve care:

  • Building new pain measurement and treatment tools: Children’s National is creating several exciting new technologies that will allow us, for the first time, to objectively measure pain, its severity and type, so we can pinpoint the cause and efficiently and cost-effectively treat it. Additionally, our new multi-sensory room blends tried and true physical therapy activities with a video gaming technology that makes therapy activities fun and distracting, but also collects vital, objective data on how well the patient is progressing and feeding that data to the therapists in real time. 
  • A soothing nonthreatening atmosphere: After countless hours spent in doctors waiting rooms and undergoing tests, children who enter our complex are understandably apprehensive. The complex, from its waiting room to our state-of-the-art Pod Bed for relaxation was designed to create a soothing and safe atmosphere where families can get the care they need without the stress and anxiety that only makes pain worse. 
  • Care begins in the waiting room: I know it can be difficult to explain to a child why she’s at yet another doctor’s office. Our waiting room features interactive technology that explains the science of pain in a kid-friendly way and helps them understand what to expect from their visit before they ever see a doctor. The waiting room, which we call the Learning Oasis, has turned a typical place of tension into a relaxing first step toward treatment. 
  • Avoiding the ER and inpatient admission when possible: Most children know that the emergency room, or staying overnight in the hospital, means there is something seriously scary going on with their body. The new care complex allows us to perform many procedures in an outpatient setting, so the kids can be treated and go home at night. This unique, multidisciplinary approach prevents unnecessary, often costly visits to the hospital and can seriously reduce the number of overnight stays a patient must endure over the course of treatment. 

When my own daughter is sick, I know all I want is for her to be treated at a place that helps her feel better as soon as possible. It’s my dream that the Pain Medicine Care Complex will be that place for children suffering chronic pain. This means ensuring that we are able to treat each child’s needs individually with a variety of tools we’ve never had before. We hope it will be the start of a major focus in this country on making sure that fewer children get out of bed feeling serious pain.


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