California hospital’s video screens calm nervous children before surgery

The surgical team at a California hospital has developed an inexpensive, medication-free way to help relax anxious children before a surgical procedure.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California provides BERT units, short for Bedside Entertainment Theater, which attach to the children’s hospital beds and allow them to watch clips from their favorite shows or films on the way to surgery, according to an article from National Public Radio. The units cost $900 to build and include an easily-disinfected camera and large projection screen. The unit travels with the child to the operating room, and is more immersive than a small, distant television, according to the article.

The team, according to NPR, wanted to come up with an effective way to calm nervous children before procedures that did not require clinicians to administer anti-anxiety medications. "Anytime we can decrease exposure to a medication, especially in a young child who has a developing brain, it's preferential to use some of these nonmedication techniques to get them off to sleep," Samuel Rodriguez, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Lucile Packard, told NPR.

Once in the OR, the video screen is transferred to the operating table with the child and the surgical team switches to a video that Rodriguez designed and edited himself. The video features clips from NASA launches, Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story" and Minions characters to encourage kids to blast off into space instead of into surgery, using their surgical masks as their space masks, according to the article.

The BERT units are also offered to children going for MRI or radiation treatments, according to NPR. The surgical team at Lucile Packard also incorporates other techniques, like allow children to play games on iPads, decorate their surgical masks with stickers or simply telling jokes. iPads have also been provided to anxious kids in the emergency department, particularly those with autism, who may find the experience especially overwhelming.

- read the NPR article