The ability to videochat with family and friends might help relieve stress among some hospitalised kids, according to a new study.
The "virtual visits" seemed to help kids who lived closest to the hospital and were hospitalised for the shortest amount of time, an average of five days.
The videochat programme has been used at the University of California Davis Children's Hospital in Sacramento for the past several years, said lead author Nikki H Yang, who works at the hospital.
Laptops loaded with webcams
"Before starting this research project, we always received positive feedbacks on improved children's stress and other mental symptoms after using our videoconferencing programme," Yang told Reuters Health in an email.
For the study, the researchers gave the so-called Family-Link system to 232 kids who were expected to be in the hospital for at least four days. The system uses laptops loaded with webcams and several programmes like Skype, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger.
Read: A laptop may boost a hospitalised child's recovery
The study also included 135 similar kids who did not get the Family-Link laptops.
Each family filled out two surveys, one in the first few days of the child's hospitalisation and the other within two days of discharge. The surveys were meant to measure stress and asked about the child's behaviour, emotions and appearance.
All of the kids' stress levels went down after they left the hospital.
Among children who lived an average of 35 miles from the hospital and were hospitalised for roughly five days, stress levels fell 37 percent more for the Family-Link group than for the kids without the programme.
Supplementing family visits
For kids who spent more time in the hospital or whose families lived further away, however, Family-Link didn't seem to make a difference.
Almost all of the Family-Link users were satisfied with the programme, and 71 percent of parents said the programme helped kids stay in touch with their family and friends more than usual, according to results published in Paediatrics.
Hospital-provided videoconferencing services could help supplement in-person family visits, according to Sarah Rhoads Kinder, who has studied those services at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
"What I found is 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," Kinder told Reuters Health.
And while parents generally make frequent in-person visits, friends who may otherwise not visit could use this videoconferencing programme, she said.
Earlier hospital discharges
In-person visits really can help patients recover, and "virtual visits" are likely to be nearly as good, Kinder said.
Reduced stress levels may even lead to earlier hospital discharges, she said.
Read: Poor kids more likely to die in hospital
Though many kids have cell phones and may Skype or FaceTime their families and friends anyway, hospital-provided options are important too because different options work for different people, she said.
"The more options family members have to stay connected the better," she said. "Grandmothers may feel more comfortable using this type of system."
Kinder's hospital uses a webcam system for new parents to watch their babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, which has been very successful, and she believes other groups, including adult cancer patients, would welcome this option.
"I think this is very promising and I'm encouraged that paediatric facilities are looking into this," Kinder said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1nWE8ON Paediatrics, online June 30, 2014.
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