In the winter of 2020, Violet Peters began to show symptoms of epilepsy. A scheduled virtual meeting would help her learn more about the tests that measure her brain’s electrical activity. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“Violet was nervous at the beginning of the visit – she was kind of curled up on my lap with the covers pulled up on her chin,” said her mother, Kim Peters. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kelly Whilden, a 16-year-old veteran on the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Child Life team, would show Violet what to expect when she came for the test. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Whilden introduced Violet to a special guest: a bright, oversized rubber duck. “I’ll never forget your smile when I got the duck out,” said Whilden. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kim, herself a specialist in Child Life at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, developed the program for virtual visits together with Whilden and another colleague in summer 2020. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Two days later, Violet knew exactly what to expect when she climbed onto the EEG table with the large rubber duck that Whilden was keeping waiting for her. (Courtesy photo by Kim Peters)
The feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. 100% of the respondents said that they would recommend a virtual visit to others in their situation. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Violet Peters is no stranger to computer screens.
Like many of her peers, she virtually attended school during part of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is used to talking to her teachers and classmates from kindergarten online.
Still, she appeared last winter on the morning of her scheduled virtual visit to Kelly Whilden, a certified Child Life Specialist from Spectrum Health Helen DeVo’s Children’s Hospital.
“Violet was nervous at the beginning of the visit – she was kind of curled up on my lap with the covers pulled up on my chin,” said her mother, Kim Peters.
The planned topic of conversation worried her.
An active, independent 6 year old from Rockford, Michigan, Violet recently showed symptoms of epilepsy. She should do her first electroencephalogram, right? EEG, later that week, to measure the electrical activity of her brain.
That was what Whilden wanted to talk to her about: What could Violet expect when she came to the test?
Through the age-appropriate explanation of the EEG process, Whilden, a 16 year old veteran of the children’s clinic, explains Children’s life team, hoped she could lift Violet’s mood and calm her down.
The conversation arose as part of the Child Life team’s virtual visiting program, which was set up at the start of the pandemic to provide an online service that is usually in person.
“Sometimes the computer can be an obstacle, but it was just so nice to use it as a tool to get to know Violet and also meet her psychosocially where she is to prepare her for her visit,” said Whilden.
Whilden wasted no time piquing Violet’s interest.
After both parties signed up on the Microsoft Teams platform and said hello, Whilden introduced Violet to a special guest: a bright, oversized rubber duck.
“I’ll never forget your smile when I got the duck out,” said Whilden.
“Her whole face was glowing.”
Whilden positioned the yellow toy in front of her laptop’s camera and placed sample electrodes on the duck to show Violet what the EEG technician would do.
“I thought it would be a perfect visual aid to make the visit a little fun and silly … and to demonstrate some of the basic steps,” Whilden said.
The demo had its effect.
Violet forgot her nerves and concentrated on Whilden and the duck.
“She relaxed quickly when she realized that Kelly was enjoying it,” said Kim.
“She asked questions … and later that evening over dinner she was able to repeat all of the steps she had learned from Kelly on my husband and son.”
Two days later, Violet knew exactly what to expect when she climbed onto the EEG table with the large rubber duck that Whilden was keeping waiting for her.
Stand up for success
Kim, herself a specialist in children’s life at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, developed the program for virtual visits together with Whilden and another colleague in summer 2020.
As the pandemic severely restricted their bedside work with children, virtual visits gave them the opportunity to reach patients at home before they entered the hospital.
Kim could have prepared her daughter for the EEG herself, but she asked Whilden for a virtual visit because she knew that children are often “better when they are taught by someone else”.
The team has now conducted more than 375 virtual visits to prepare patients and families for surgeries, MRIs, and other tests and procedures.
The feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. 100% of the respondents said that they would recommend a virtual visit to others in their situation.
By equipping the children with knowledge, virtual visits reduce anxiety and result in a smoother hospital visit.
“Children could have an MRI with sedation medication scheduled and then we do a virtual visit and help prepare … and then we find that they felt so prepared and ready that they didn’t need that sedation medication,” said Whiden.
“It is a wonderful thing for the child not to have to have anesthesia or sedatives.”
Virtual visits also help uncover issues – like a patient’s sensory needs or the inability to swallow pills – so the medical team can address them in advance, Kim said.
“I think it’s just incredible that we can prepare these patients for success before they come.”
The Child Life team receives referrals from doctors and nurses, but most virtual appointments are made through face-to-face contacts.
“We’d mostly call families on our surgical schedule or on our radiology schedule and say, ‘Hey, this is a new program. Do you think it would be helpful for your child? ‘”Said Kim.
As the virtual program enables Child Life to reach more people, the team plans to continue offering virtual visits even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted. And they hope to add patients from other pediatric specialties as the program grows.
“We can definitely see that it goes on,” said Kim. “It is a time saver for families to be able to do this from home, and that benefit of preparing before going to the hospital will always be important in my opinion.”
As a parent who has benefited personally from the program, Kim knows its value to children and their families. It put Violet on the right foot as she embarked on an unsafe medical journey.
“Epilepsy felt like a scary diagnosis and we were really reassured by the care she was getting,” said Kim.
“We know she is in good hands.”
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