Hospitals consider benefits, costs of child life specialists

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More general hospitals are using child life specialists to improve patient satisfaction and safety for kids and considering the associated costs as simply administrative "overhead."

Although standard at children's hospitals, child life specialists are expanding into general hospitals, clinics and even dental offices, The Washington Post and Kaiser Health News reported.

"The purpose of my job is to make the hospital as least traumatic and stressful as possible," said Liz Anderson, one of 16 child life specialists at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Although Anderson doesn't provide medical care, she makes children feel more comfortable in the medical setting by visiting pediatric patients daily to explain medical care to the child or help the child play.

At DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., child life staff organized a Nutcracker performance in anticipation of Christmas, Michigan Live reported.

At Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children's Hospital of New Jersey, child life specialists helped organize a reverse Halloween parade after Hurricane Sandy left the hospital with minimal light, NJ Today reported. Departments dropped off their candy and craft supplies and made goodie bags for the patients.

"The efforts of the entire staff to normalize patient visits during this time has been outstanding," President and CEO John A. Brennan said about the child life staff.

Children's hospitals are expanding the breed to the outpatient setting, for example, having a child life specialist explain MRIs to kids so they don't have to be sedated.

Rahul Shah, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Children's National, estimates that each child life specialist visit can save three to five minutes of time for his surgical team. "With 10 kids, that's 50 minutes; that's another surgery," he told the Post and KHN.

With more than 4,000 child life specialists in the United States, the college-educated specialists earn about $40,000 to $60,000. The services, however, aren't reimbursable by insurers. Nevertheless, there are satisfaction benefits tied to Medicare payments.

For more information:
- watch the Washington Post report
- read the Kaiser Health News/Washington Post article
- here's the Michigan Live article
- see the NJ Today article

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