St. Louis chief medical officer prescribes playtime for patients

Nick Holekamp, MD, the chief medical officer at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, worked with his team to develop a new caregiving role that moved beyond the bedside: Patient play advocates.

The impetus behind the new role was nothing out of the ordinary, but something Dr. Holekamp and team witnessed day-to-day that could improve patient experience overall: restless kids needing more stimulation, according to a Jan. 23 news release shared with Becker's

While certain specialists like pediatric occupational therapists and child life specialists lean on "play" as a tool for specific care needs, the needs went beyond just that. 

Dr. Holekamp noticed that the restlessness on nights and weekends in pediatric patients was leading to some of them pulling on medical devices or messing with equipment, which

"added to patient safety concerns," he said in the release.

"We thought if we had designated team members focused on play, that role could keep our patients engaged and give them more opportunities to play to help with their healing process," Dr. Holekamp said. 

The observations combined with research led by Dr. Holekamp published in September 2023 that highlighted the benefits of incorporating more opportunities for play and social interactions in pediatric patient care.

Now the hospital has 22 patient play advocates who do everything from craft friendship bracelets with kids to taking them for nature walks. The role has also allowed nurses to lighten their load balance by delegating non-clinical tasks to the patient play advocates as needed.

"Our nurses and front-line staff are dedicated to practicing care beyond the bedside, but when they are busy with nursing tasks, they can't always stop to offer one-on-one playtime that kids not only need but crave," Kristin LaRose, MSN, RN, the hospital's chief nursing officer said in the release. "Our new team of PPAs helps our nurses to focus on their patient care tasks and know that kids are getting to be kids and play when they do not need specific clinical care."

The program has so far been in place for just over one year at the 60-bed hospital.

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