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Making pain care a priority image header.jpgMaking pain care a priority

Hospital earns international recognition for culture of comfort

The Alberta Children’s Hospital is the second hospital in Canada to receive prestigious international recognition for how its experts make kids feel comfortable and how well they manage pain.

Thanks to community support for programs and research at the Vi Riddell Children’s Pain & Rehabilitation Centre, the Alberta Children’s Hospital is now one of 10 pediatric hospitals in the world to be ChildKind certified.

ChildKind is the gold standard certification for healthcare institutions who have made comfort and pain management foundational values of care. Certification is awarded to hospitals that demonstrate innovative approaches to the prevention, assessment and management of children’s pain, and for making the child and family experience as stress-free and comfortable as possible at every point of contact.

“Unmanaged pain can have significant, long-term effects on children.”

Laura Rayner, clinical nurse specialist

The certification doesn’t surprise Jacqui Loucks, whose daughter Tessa, 12, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis in August. They have had many appointments, including a day surgery, and Jacqui says Tessa has felt comfortable at every turn.

“From our first interaction, it’s been such a positive experience. Everybody there knows how to talk to the kids, how to interact with them, how to make them comfortable,” says Jacqui. “One of the things her rheumatologist said was ‘we are going to get in front of the pain, we don’t want any child to suffer,’ and as a parent that was the best news I’d heard.”


Tessa told her caregivers she isn’t a fan of needles, so they use a special numbing cream. “There may be more pokes and procedures in Tessa’s future and knowing that she’s not afraid is going to make everything so much easier,” says Jacqui.

Several services helped the Alberta Children’s Hospital to gain this special certification. The Acute Pain Service operates 24 hours a day to meet with all inpatients and address discomfort. At the Complex Pain Clinic, a multidisciplinary team empowers kids and families to better manage their own pain. For youth who are experiencing significant and more complex pain, the Vi Riddell Intensive Pain Rehabilitation Program is a three-to-six-week day treatment program that aims to improve function and get kids active again in age-appropriate activities.

“Unmanaged pain can have significant, long-term effects on children,” says Laura Rayner, a clinical nurse specialist at the Vi Riddell Children’s Pain & Rehabilitation Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. “Thanks to the generosity of this community and its support for research and excellence, our hospital is leading the way in providing comfort to kids.”

Commitment to comfort

No one wants to see a child in pain and the people at the Alberta Children’s Hospital work hard every day to ensure kids are as comfortable as possible. In fact, comfort is an underlying philosophy that informs everything they do.

Commitment to Comfort™ is a site-wide initiative that puts a child’s comfort first during needle pokes, potentially uncomfortable procedures and visits to the Emergency Department. Caregivers and parents alike engage the use of soothing language, comfort positions, numbing cream, a fun toy or iPad as distraction – all of which can put children at ease.

Not only has Commitment to Comfort been a big hit with kids and families, it has been given prestigious recognition with the 2017 Patient Experience Award from the Health Quality Council of Alberta and the 2018 Alberta Health Services President’s Excellence Award.

The program has proved so effective at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, that experts are now teaming up with Alberta Public Laboratories to roll it out to labs across the province. Learn more.

Did you know?
In 2019, the World Health Organization took a major step toward recognizing chronic pain as an illness rather than a symptom, which will have a global impact on patient care and pain research.

Pain research shows positivity matters

How we talk with our kids about pain today can impact how they deal with it tomorrow.

According to new research, children whose parents focus more on positive emotions will recall their medical experience as being less scary and painful than it actually was. A child may have initially rated their pain as a six out of 10, but would later remember it as a two out of 10. Kids whose parents reminisce more about the pain using words like ‘hurt,’ ‘sting’ and ‘ouch’ will remember the surgery more negatively.

“The way children are remembering their pain is an underlying factor in the development of chronic pain.”

Melanie Noel, researcher

The findings come from Melanie Noel of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute who says the data can teach parents how to talk to kids in ways that will foster more positive recollections of a pain experience. More positive memories can lead to better pain and healthcare experiences throughout their lives, says Noel. With the help of parents who participated in Noel’s study, researchers have developed a memory reframing intervention that is now being used with children undergoing tonsillectomies at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. This involves teaching parents and children to reminisce in ways that emphasize positive aspects of the past painful experience, correcting negative exaggerations in recall (when they remember it as being worse than it was), and helping to boost children’s confidence about their ability to cope with pain.

“The way children are remembering their pain is an underlying factor in the development of chronic pain,” says Noel. “We can teach parents and kids how to reminisce and talk about their pain experience in a way that emphasizes the positives, like a friendly nurse, instead of the negatives. This may actually change the pain and health trajectory for thousands of kids and adults. This is the research we are doing right now at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.”

Tips and tricks for parents to keep kids comfy

Numbing creams can take the sting out of a needle poke. Talk to your pharmacist about products such as Ametop, Emla and Maxilene.

Distraction goes a long way when a child is having a potentially uncomfortable procedure. Always have something to watch, read or play with on hand.

Positive language is a very powerful tool and will impact you and your child’s experience during a procedure. Use words like “uncomfortable” or “discomfort” instead of “hurt,” “pain” or “painful.”

Be honest
with your child and tell them that they will be going to the laboratory for a blood collection or the hospital for a particular procedure. Keeping your child’s trust is important.

Reduce your child’s worries by describing what will happen (what they will see and hear) as well as why it will happen, as best you can.

Reward your child by doing something special with them after a needle poke to celebrate their bravery.

Keep calm and parent on. Your relaxed and calming presence makes a difference.

Will it hurt? Try saying one of the following: “I don’t know what you’re going to feel, but if you use the strategies we talked about like planned distraction or numbing cream, it won’t bother you so much,” or “Maybe you can tell me what it felt like when we’re done,” or “Isn’t it amazing when you take those big belly breaths, how it makes your body feel so calm and relaxed?”

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