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Making Movies to Make the Hospital Experience Better for Kids

Girl with cameraMadison, Wisconsin – Do your children like taking medicine? Do they like getting shots?

Probably not, but if they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition like diabetes or cancer and have to spend extended time in the hospital, they’re going to have to confront their fear of pills, foul-tasting medicine and needles.

American Family Children’s Hospital pediatric psychologist Joel Wish, PhD, is hoping to use a grant his program received from the Friends of UW Hospital and Clinics to accelerate that process.

Dr. Wish will use the Friends grant money to purchase Flip video cameras that young patients can use to create mini-movies about common hospital experiences. The children will videotape themselves interacting with medical staff, acclimating to their rooms and successfully accomplishing the less pleasant tasks attendant to hospital stays.

The videos, Dr. Wish believes, will benefit both the child making the video and other children going through similar experiences.

“We see a lot of kids who have not mastered pill swallowing, either because they’ve never done it before or because they fear choking or the pill becoming stuck,” he says. “They dread it, and it becomes a conditioned response. We believe the videos will be a significant enough incentive to tackle the problems that are standing in their way.”

By seeing that bad medicine go down without negative ramifications, the conditioned response changes from the aforementioned dread to acceptance. And that positive experience, captured on video, can show other young patients how to accomplish those tasks, as well.

“Kids do better when they have social modeling,” Dr. Wish says. “If kids make videos for other children, and if those videos are available to kids who are struggling with similar issues, research and experience show it can help.”

Dr. Wish hopes the video segments encourage children to achieve what he calls an “optimal level of anxiety” when confronted with something new they might not naturally want to do. Too much anxiety can result in stasis or refusal. But at an optimal level, that anxiety can also be harnessed to catalyze accomplishment.

“The video is a concrete way of showing ourselves and other people of how we’ve mastered something,” he says. “It’s a good way of taking the focus off that anxiety and shifting it onto a motivator.”

The videos may also be a way of tapping into the universal human inclination toward storytelling as a way of understanding our lives.

“Videos can be a way for kids who are in the hospital to connect with other people,” Dr. Wish says. “Children can make a movie to show their classmates, who might not know what a day in the hospital is like. Some kids want to show what it’s like to have a physical therapy session or 'walk' people through what the machines at the hospital look like or what their rooms look like.”

Even though the hospital often brings forward negative associations like illness and physical pain, it can be a positive, rewarding experience if placed in a comprehensible context.

“Many families and kids want to have memories,” Dr. Wish says, “Even though being in the hospital can be a difficult time, families often want to document what they’ve been through.”

Friends of University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics is a non-profit organization that funds programs and services to improve the lives of the patients and families and support special health-related needs in Dane County.

Friends grants allow UW Hospital and American Family Children’s Hospital staff to apply for funding for patient programs not provided through the hospital’s normal operational budget. The 2012-13 grants funded 22 initiatives this year, with grants totaling nearly $45,000.


Date Published: 02/12/2013

News tag(s):  joel wish