The iPad Mini's Effect on Children's Anxiety Before Anesthe​sia

Most anesthesiologists would agree: the less medication, the better. A new study led by Samuel C. Seiden, MD, an anesthesiologist at Lurie Children's, is taking that notion to a new level.

Given that parental separation and the introduction of anesthesia are major sources for anxiety and stress for children going into surgery, Dr. Seiden decided to test the effect a distraction would have on relaxing children. In February 2013, he began giving patients iPad Minis to play games to take their attention away from the pre-surgery activities going on around them, and his experiment has been met with positive initial results.

“We are seeing that the popular iPad mini and its thousands of games, including Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Pocket Pond, are effective tools in distracting these young patients who otherwise can be quite anxious when entering the operating room and falling asleep,” says Dr. Seiden. “Because the iPad is so intuitive, it is second nature for even infants and toddlers to pick up and start playing a game they may never have even played before. It is such a powerful distraction that many of our patients fall asleep in the OR while still playing Angry Birds.”

Watch the video that Dr. Seiden and his team made for a first-hand look at one patient's response to the new treatment.

Dr. Seiden and his colleagues are collecting data from children ages 1 to 11 who are having outpatient surgery for the first time. Before surgery, patients are randomly assigned to receive either the iPad Mini tablet or a sedating medication. Preliminary findings in some patients are showing that not only is the tablet as or more effective than the sedative, but these children go home significantly sooner than if they had been given the sedating medication before surgery.

Although there are studies that show the effectiveness of distracting patients before anesthesia, this is the first study of its kind to study the effects of an interactive tablet on patients as young as one year of age. Dr.  Seiden believes that the interactivity of the tablet is what makes it such an effective distraction technique. “Many parents have seen how consumed their children can get playing video games, but in this context we use that hyper focused state as a therapeutic alternative to sedating medications,” said Dr. Seiden.

Santhanam Suresh, MD, who is also an investigator on the study, hopes that further research will show that less sedation may ease some of the post-operative side effects such as sleep disorders, night terrors and aggressiveness that some patients exhibit.