Dental surgery under anesthesia is a common procedure for young children, but it can be a traumatic one for many kids. Leaving their parents to go back to the operating room for surgery can cause a lot of anxiety and tears. While calming oral medication can make the transition a little easier, Stephen Tanner, M.D., of Christiana Care Health System’s Roxana Cannon Arsht Surgicenter, Wilmington, Del., wanted to try a different approach.
His idea? Purchase several battery-operated cars that kids can “drive” to the operating room. “I saw the opportunity to make it a better experience for these kids,” says Tanner. “It helps to alleviate separation anxiety not only for the children, but their parents.”
While they have other tools of distraction at their disposal, like stickers, artwork and movies, “the car is the ultimate participatory distraction tool,” says Tanner. “It has made a huge difference.”
The child-sized blue Jeep and white BMW convertible are controlled by a remote, so Tanner can keep the kids from bumping into the walls on their drives.
The team purchased both vehicles in September 2015 and, within a few months, they realized that it “was a big hit,” says Deborah Gigliotti, R.N., nurse manager of the Arsht Surgicenter. So they reviewed 100 pediatric cases of children ages 2 through 6 from before the use of the vehicles, and compared them with another 100 cases after the cars were introduced. The results? A significant decrease in the need for preoperative sedation, from 28 to 8 percent.
“Families love it,” says Gigliotti. “It’s a feel-good experience. Taking a crying child from a parent’s arms into the OR is so tough for us. Our hearts bleed for the kids, the parents. The cars have made the transition so much smoother. The child goes in to have the procedure done with a smile on his or her face — and mom and dad are smiling, too.”
It’s been a relatively small investment for something that makes such a big difference, says Gigliotti. The vehicles are easy to care for and can be wiped down with the same sanitizing wipes used on operating room equipment. “The oil changes are inexpensive,” jokes Tanner. And Gigliotti says the supportive environment at Christiana Care meant that getting approval for this project was not too hard. “They were extremely receptive,” she says. “We receive a lot of support for making the patient care experience the best we can.”
Tanner and Gigliotti have shared the success of their battery-powered cars with other pediatric departments at Christiana Care, specifically with the radiation oncology department. “We purchased a car for children with brain tumors who have to come for weekly radiation therapy under anesthesia,” says Gigliotti. They also presented the idea to other dentists at the March Special Care Dentistry Association Annual Meeting in Charlotte, N.C., with the hope that other kids who need dental surgery will have a chance to be in the driver’s seat, too.