In the fast paced, often high stakes hospital environment, should doctors and nurses incorporate play with pediatric patients? If so, how can play be used at the bedside? 




On its own, play helps develop a child’s "cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being", according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When used in a hospital setting, medical play can be used to:


(1) promote optimal development; 

(2) educate children and families about health conditions; 

(3) prepare children and families for medical events or procedures; 

(4) plan and rehearse useful coping and pain management strategies; 

(5) help children work through feelings about past or impending experiences; and 

(6) establish therapeutic relationships with patients, siblings, and parents to support family involvement in each child’s care. 


Incorporating medical play into routine care can be one way to practice trauma informed care at the bedside. When used as either a distraction or an educational tool, medical play can help reduce the traumatic nature of an injury, illness, medical procedure and/or hospital environmental.  


How can doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals incorporate play at the bedside? According to Deborah B. Vilas, MS, CCLS, LMSW, play can be used at many key points during a pediatric patient’s time in the hospital. Play can be used to distract a child as he/she waits for the doctor, nurse, or medical procedure. Doctors/ nurses can demonstrate what a child can anticipate during medical test or procedure through play. Play can even be used during a medical procedure, as a way to help distract the patient. For example:


"A highly successful intervention took place in an ER when a child life specialist hung a sheet between two IV poles, blocking the child’s view of the suturing of the child’s wound. The two-year- old lay on her mother’s lap and slathered the sheet with shaving cream and art materials while the doctor cleaned and sutured the child’s shin."


For doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals looking to incorporate play into their routine bedside care, the Cellie Coping Kit is an evidence based stuffed toy with accompanying child cards and caregiver workbook designed especially to help children cope with illness, injury, and medical procedures. Have you ever used medical play to help a pediatric patient cope with their illness, injury, or a medical procedure? Share your stories on our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages!