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Monday, March 4, 2013

Reducing the fear factor during medical procedures

This article in this month’s issue of ‘Monitor on Psychology’ describes how strategies such as distraction and exposure therapy can be employed to reduce anxiety among patients, specifically children, who face medical procedures.

The article talks about how anaesthesiologists are using cartoons help children stay calm in operating rooms.  Researchers are also exploring the usefulness of video games to reduce anxiety. In one study, researchers had one group of healthy children watch footage of the game ‘Finding Nemo’ while another group played the game. One hand of the children in both groups was immersed in ice-cold water. The study showed that the children who were actively engaged in the game showed more tolerance to the pain, compared to the children who only watched the video footage. Why is this the case? This is because actively playing the game requires the use of executive cognitive processes that reduce the perception of pain. Research is also underway to determine the type of games (e.g., action games, mellow games) that are most beneficial in reducing anxiety and manage painful medical procedures among children (and clearly, there will be individual differences).

Exposure therapy is also another technique that is used to lower anxiety levels. For example, simulated medical procedures are used to expose children to sights, sounds, and smells associated with the procedure as well as the equipment that will be used during a procedure. 

These techniques should be kept in mind when designing workflows and systems to create an optimal user experience for patients.

Photo credit: Danielle Grannan, via Wikimedia Commons.

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