People may grumble about kids today and their technology, but in doing so, they overlook a very important element: A lot of that technology helps families live happier, healthier lives. A small study presented during the World Congress of Anesthesiologists found that iPads were as effective as sedative drugs at calming kids and parents before surgery, and even better at increasing the efficacy of anesthesia.

The prospect of undergoing a surgical procedure can be scary for anyone. To calm patients down, hospitals often administer a sedative medication before wheeling them off to the anesthesiologist. Studies have shown that being afraid can increase pain, which means that reducing fear is crucial not only for the patient's state of mind but also for the surgery's success.

Consequently, scientists and medical practitioners are interested in finding ways to reduce that fear. A 2014 study found that kids were calmer and responded better to anesthesia when their parents were allowed to join them in the room; however, other researchers have argued that the reverse is true, and that parents’ anxiety rubs off on their children. While the pro- and anti-parental presence factions sort it out, other scientists continue to look for alternatives.

Researchers in France recruited the families of 112 children scheduled for surgery. About half (54) of the kids received the standard treatment, a sedative called midazolam, 20 minutes before anesthesia. The other group (58 kids) were told to spend 20 minutes playing with an iPad stocked with games. Each kid was assigned two psychologists, who measured the young patients’ anxiety at five time points: at arrival to the hospital; when they were separated from their parents for anesthesia; during the administration of anesthesia; as they waited for the anesthesia to kick in; and as they were being taken to the surgery ward. The same psychologists also kept track of anxiety in the patients’ parents and asked them to rate the anesthesia procedure.

Lead researcher Dominique Chassard is an anesthesiology expert and hospital director at Hôpital Femme Mère Enfant in Bron. "Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anaesthesia are equally blunted by midazolam or use of the iPad,” he said in a statement.

They found that iPads also have an edge over sedatives on three counts: no side effects; higher parental satisfaction; and a boost in efficacy for anesthesia. “Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in paediatric ambulatory surgery," Chassard said.

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