It's previously been proven that family visits to hospitalized patients greatly reduce these patients' anxiety levels, often even leading to the possibility of early release. For several years, UC Davis Children's Hospital in Sacramento has been offering a service that expands on this concept. Known as Family-Link, the system helps hospitalized children communicate with their family members through videoconferencing software such as Skype and FaceTime.

While the system garners frequent praise from the families who use it, a recent study released in Pediatrics Magazine analyzes the effects this system has on the stress levels of these hospitalized children, suggesting that even virtual visits can markedly reduce anxiety in hospitalized patients.

The Study

The UC Davis team that examined the clinical effects of Family-Link, lead by professor James Marcin, studied 367 children who were hospitalized for four days or longer. They compared the anxiety levels of 232 of the children who chose to use the Family-Link system to the 135 who did not. The system consisted of webcam-enabled laptops provided to the children, equipped with a variety of videoconferencing software.

The parents and guardians of these children were asked to fill out surveys in which they assessed their children's anxiety levels at several points before, during, and after their stay. This Parent-Guardian Stress Survey consisted of four question groups which examined the children's behavior, communication, and appearance, along with questions asking parents to identify whether they noticed symptoms of stress and anxiety.

After results were compared, it was identified that the patients using Family-Link saw a higher level of anxiety reduction compared to those that didn't. Unexpectedly, children who lived closer to the hospital and had shorter stays actually experienced greater benefits from using the system, with a 37% drop in anxiety levels.

Nikki Yang, head author of the Davis study, was optimistic about the results and the future of such systems in hospitals, stating, “this study shows that we have another tool to help children during their hospital stays."

What the Family-Link System Means for Other Hospitals

UC Davis Children's hospital has been one of the first to implement a system like Family-Link. Sarah Rhoads Kinder, who researches the effects of similar systems in hospitals, emphasized its advantages by stating, “for a lot of families, we expect them to stay in the hospital with their child but if they have other children at home or aren't financially able to take off from work, there are barriers to that."

She also mentioned that Family-Link allows patients to communicate with people who wouldn't always be able to visit, such as friends or extended family. While many of the children may already have access to similar software, such as FaceTime on their phones, Family-Link provides another option and access for many who wouldn't have it otherwise.

Kinder described a similar system in her hospital which allows parents to monitor their babies in the intensive care unit. She advocates for the expansion of these virtual connectivity systems into other parts of the hospital environment, a goal which may be helped by the promising clinical results of the UC Davis study.

Date of original publication:

Sources

Nikki H. Yang, DVM, MPVM; Madan Dharmar, MBBS, Ph.D.; Nayla M. Hojman, BA, BS; Candace K. Sadorra, BS; Diana Sundberg, CCLS; Gary L. Wold; Kourosh Parsapour, MD, MBA; James P. Marcin, MD, MPH. Videoconferencing to Reduce Stress Among Hospitalized Children. Pediatrics; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-3912

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