A young patient, accompanied by a social worker, learns to give an injection to a stuffed bear, as part of his play therapy, at the Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai.
A Shanghai hospital has become the first on the Chinese mainland to introduce play therapy, which is designed to help children overcome the fear of medical treatment and better cooperate with doctors.
The Children's Hospital of Fudan University started using seven sets of games aimed at different ages and conditions on Tuesday. They including role-playing games or other activities that distract a child during potentially painful procedures or give them a better understanding of the human body.
Each set has different tools and children can play with their parents under the instruction of social workers at the hospital, which has partnered with game designer Right To Play, a Canadian NGO dedicated to using play to empower children in adversity.
"We tried to mimic the medical treatment procedures through the playing process so that children will become familiar with the procedures in the hospital and the common medical instruments," said Zhang Yexia, a strategic adviser at the China branch of Right To Play. "It will help them feel less afraid of the hospital and keep a positive attitude to fight disease."
She said play therapy, which has been adopted in some developed countries for decades, will begin with patients suffering kidney and immunological diseases at the hospital.
For example, Zhang said, if a child is hospitalized for treatment of nephrotic syndrome, which affects the kidneys, he or she will receive a picture book describing what the disease is in a vivid way and in words that are understandable to children.
"We used an adorable bear in the book as the main character and showed the common steps, including injection and renal puncture, and going to the hospital for medical treatment to minimize children's fear, because they don't know what will happen next," she said.
Chen Jing-yi, a doctor of clinical psychology from Keelung Hospital in Taiwan, said research showed that about 80 percent of hospitalized children showed negative behaviors because of psychological changes, and such problems endure for more than half of them.
Some children may be overcome by frustration and anxiety, and in severe cases, some may experience insomnia, nightmares and anorexia, Chen said.
"However, children like games, which also helps them to have more communication with each other and get energy from each other. Such games are important for children's physical and mental development in the special period," she said.
Wei Chunyan, senior director of public affairs at Becton, Dickinson and Co－the United States medical technology company that sponsored the project－said they hoped to obtain data from the project to see if it is worth promoting to more hospitals in the country.
"The data may show whether pediatric patients involved in play therapy cooperate with doctors and nurses better during medical treatment. For example, we will find out whether the likelihood of having a successful injection with just one attempt is higher among such children," she said.