Child Life Specialists Begin Using Telemedicine to Reach Hospitalized Children During COVID-19

Child life programs play a crucial role to make hospital stays less scary for pediatric patients and their families, utilizing playtime, medical role play, music therapy and other approaches to ease their anxieties and promote connectivity. In addition to making hospital stays less intimidating, research has demonstrated that playtime is critical for emotional, social, physical and cognitive development in children.

However, the dramatic, but necessary, changes that have been made to prevent community spread of COVID-19 made Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, ask, “How can we practice physical distancing and still bring children healing and neurological development through playtime?”

The question sparked some creative thinking from her child life specialists.

From hosting Zoom calls with patients and families to recording YouTube videos of specialists playing games, remotely conducting musical sing-alongs to explaining why a doctor might look frightening while donning personal protective equipment — the child life team has used innovation and technology to develop their own virtual content for children in the hospital.

When the child life team learns that a pediatric patient is arriving, specialists quickly set up the room with a personal iPad, an email address written on the room’s whiteboard and a special QR code to see their curated content.

“We have adapted to this new reality, but the mission remains the same: helping to support children and families navigate hospital life and, to the best of our abilities, make this feel like a second home,” said Carroll. “Children are still coming into the hospital, and for a lot of those who are here for follow-up, the new way of doing things can be overwhelming.”

This new practice has evoked a positive response from patients and families, with numerous requests from patients and families for more videos.

“We are constantly looking at different ways to keep our hospitalized patients engaged, and we have had conversations with children’s hospitals across the country to develop new ideas,” Carroll said. “I never thought that something as simple as unboxing a new toy could spark joy in a child.”

If you are interested in learning more or supporting the Chase Child Life Program, please visit: https://www.uclahealth.org/mattel/chase-child-life.

To learn more about how UCLA is incorporating telemedicine with child care, click here.


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