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Missed the NRC Health 2022 Pediatric Conference this year? Here are the highlights

The 2022 NRC Health Pediatric Conference at Children’s of Alabama offered leaders across our nation the opportunity to exchange ideas focused on improving patient experiences before, during, and after hospital care. If you missed the chance to attend, you’re in luck: you can still learn from what our presenters had to say.

Here are some highlights from three of the presentations delivered at this year’s conference.

The Side Effects of Kindness and Networking
~David R. Hamilton, PhD

Could a hug a day keep the cardiologist away? Maybe! An organic chemist who formerly worked in the pharmaceutical industry says that neurologically and physiologically speaking, the opposite of stress is how kindness feels in the body.

David R. Hamilton, PhD., author of Why Kindness Is Good for You, explained that kindness has a long-term protective effect on the body. He says that kindness has a cardioprotective effect, like hugging someone. Studies have shown that women who had the highest hug scores had the highest levels of kindness hormones and the lowest blood pressure. And it’s not having just a feel-good effect: kindness has a physical effect on the brain’s structure.

“Instead of creating stress hormones, you can create kindness hormones,” says Hamilton. “You can build resilience to stress through practical acts of kindness. Kindness hormones act like a dimmer switch in that brain region which plays a central role in stress, worry, fear, and anxiety. Studies show that when you’re being kind, no matter what happens, it takes a little bit of the sting out of stressful events.”

Hamilton explains that kindness has a long-term protective effect on the body. He says that scientists did a study where they initially took cells from the cardiovascular system and the immune system, and put them in test tubes under stress. The stress was meant to simulate stressful conditions inside the body, whether dietary, lifestyle, or mental and emotional stress.

“They found quite high levels of inflammation, which you would expect, and high levels of free radicals, which ultimately damage the cardiovascular system,” Hamilton says. “But when they did the same experiment again, they dropped in a few drops of the kindness hormone. Levels of inflammation and free radicals dropped through the floor. In fact, in the immune system, there was an almost 57% reduction in inflammation inside immune cells within minutes, as a consequence of introducing the kindness hormone.”

Hamilton says that one of the most important people you need to show kindness to is yourself. “Research shows there are two real main ways to be kind to ourselves,” he says. “One is in the things we do for ourselves, but the other is in how we think about ourselves—how we speak to ourselves about ourselves.” Hamilton suggests several exercises that can help self-kindness, and says even as little as three minutes of “kindfulness” practice can make a difference each day.

Click here to view keynote speaker David R. Hamilton’s whole presentation from the NRC Health 2022 Pediatric Conference.

How to Improve Care Experiences for Patients with Sensory Sensitivities
~Dr. Michele Kong, MD, MBA Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama and practicing intensivist at Children’s Hospital of Alabama
~Chelsea Brown, BS, CCLS, AC, Certified Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital of Alabama

Imagine for a moment that you’re a child coming to a new hospital. You’re sick, and going to the hospital is not part of your routine. Everyone around you is wearing scrubs and a mask. The hospital smells funny, and the lights are too bright. It’s loud near the nurses’ station, and it’s hard to understand what people are saying to you. You see the big people’s lips moving, but it’s so loud you don’t understand what they’re telling you to do.

“You can imagine how the hospital setting is a big setup for problems and barriers, not just to diagnosis management, but also to the experience for the family and patients when they come to the hospital,” says Dr. Michele Kong, MD, MBA, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama and practicing intensivist at Children’s Hospital of Alabama. “We must understand that there are many special-needs patients out there, across all settings, and we need to remove the barriers to take better care of them.”

Altering communication strategies and making environmental modifications can help guard against sensory overload. To address the growing needs of patients with sensory sensitivities, Children’s of Alabama created The Sensory Pathway to offer patients resources to decrease sensory overload experienced during their hospital visits. Two main ways to initiate a patient to the pathway are caregiver identification or staff training. Once a patient is placed on the Sensory Pathway, tools like noise-canceling headphones or weighted lap pads and other resources are used to help support their sensory needs. Staff in all areas where the Sensory Pathway is active are trained in effective ways to communicate and work with patients who have sensory sensitivities.

When it comes to environmental changes, Certified Child Life Specialist Chelsea Brown, BS, CCLS, AC, at Children’s of Alabama, says that being more cognizant of patients’ environment will help each patient have a better experience. “We can guard against sensory overloads by dimming the lights, reducing the noise on the TV—things that we just kind of naturally drown out,” she says. “When we can, we want to place patients in less-stimulating areas, like the corners of our units. Reduce staff in the room, use the same staff when possible, and utilize one voice to speak during the procedure to reduce stimuli.”

Click here to view Children’s Hospital of Alabama’s whole presentation from the NRC Health 2022 Pediatric Conference.

“We ARE” Penn State—Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Journey
~Shanne Keeny, MISM, CPXP, Director, Patient and Guest Experience, Penn State Health

Dr. Hyma Polimera grew up in India dreaming of becoming a physician, and in 2008, she made her dream come true. She became a physician and eventually moved to the United States and started working at Penn State Health in 2014. In 2016, she met a patient who had multiple chronic conditions, including dementia. She met with the caregiver and a power of attorney. And when she introduced herself, the caregiver immediately asked for a change of physician.

Dr. Polimera suspected she knew why they were asking for a physician change, but she still asked the question. And even though she felt like she’d known what the response would be, she said she still felt blindsided when the caregiver said, “I’d like an American doctor.”

Dr. Polimera took that experience to her supervisor and submitted a change-of-physician request form. Dr. Brian McGillen was the supervisor of hospitalists at the time. He first talked to Dr. Polimera and asked her if she was comfortable caring for that patient, even though they’d asked for an American physician. She said yes.

McGillen knew that Polimera was highly qualified to care for the patient. So he went back to the patient and their family and said, “Your request for a physician change is denied. We will not honor a change request based on bias or discrimination.”

That set a precedent for future diversity, equity, and inclusion work at Penn State Health, explained Shanne Keeny, MISM, CPXP, the organization’s Director of Patient and Guest Experience.

Today, Penn State Health has an anti-bias policy that follows those same guidelines, which explain that they will not honor a request for change of any staff—not just physicians—based on bias or discriminatory thoughts or actions. Conversely, its expectation of mutual respect is shown in Penn State Health’s vision to deliver excellent care, combining the most advanced and innovative techniques in medicine with compassionate and culturally responsive service for patients, families, and communities.

“We’ve purposely called this a journey, because I don’t think that there’s a time that we’re ever going to stop talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Keeny says. “And sometimes we think that we’ve been working at this for a long time, and then other days I come into work and I think, Boy, we really just got started.”

Click here to view Penn State Health’s whole presentation from the NRC Health 2022 Pediatric Conference.