Digital Device Distraction and Pediatric Pain Relief

Written by Clay Smith

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Use of digital distraction, such as a mobile device, tablet, TV, or even virtual reality, was effective in reducing pain and distress in pediatric patients undergoing painful procedures.

Why does this matter?
We often stick a mobile device playing Paw Patrol or other kid-friendly flick in front of children undergoing anxiety provoking procedures, but does this actually help them relax and improve tolerance of the procedure?

Digital distraction – not the “make-your-thumb-come-off” trick
This was a meta-analysis of a whopping 106 studies on the use of digital distractors during painful pediatric procedures (I promise…I am not trying to alliterate). Digital distraction included mobile phones, tablets, TV/DVD, laptop, or virtual reality – essentially any kind of screen. When studies were combined, there was a clear improvement in both patient-rated, observer-rated, and behavioral-rated pain and distress. For pain, there were 46 RCTs. Altogether, this would translate into a pain reduction of about 1 on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. For self-reported distress, there were 19 RCTs and a drop by 18 on a 100-point visual analog scale. This study certainly fits with my experience. All kids are different in the way they react to procedural stress, but many times I have seen this form of distraction work like a drug, with kids zoned out watching their favorite YouTube videos. I don’t see a downside to a little “screen time” as a digital distractor in this setting.

Digital Technology Distraction for Acute Pain in Children: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2020 Feb;145(2). pii: e20191139. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-1139. Epub 2020 Jan 22.

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