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Hospital uses emojis to better engage younger patients

Staff at the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick have broken out the happy, teary and angry emojis as a way to open up dialogue about treatment and enable younger patients and their families to communicate their feelings.

A patient suggested the idea to staff who ran with the idea, incorporating emoji choices such as wheelchair, x-ray, tablet and food and drink into patient communication boards.

Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick clinical nurse educator Maria Brien said the emojis prompt a conversation with and between the patient and/or family, which may be difficult to initiate with words. She added this is especially significant for young people who are unable to express their needs and feelings verbally.

“In doing this, we have modelled how the patient voice is not only about words, and changed how nurses interact with young people,” Brien said. “The boards are an opportunity to show how children and adolescents can be actively engaged in the co-production and implementation of a change to improve the hospital experience for children and young people.”

Brien, along with colleague and quality officer Laurel Mimmo, presented the idea to a room of nurses, nursing students and health professionals at the Australian College of Nursing’s (ACN) National Nursing Forum in Sydney.

ACN said hospitals can be an overwhelming place for children and adolescents, where their thoughts and feelings can be overshadowed by confusing conversations about their treatment and care.

Chief executive adjunct professor Kylie Ward said using innovative communication tools likes emojis that would appeal to younger patients makes the hospital setting less intimidating. "[It] gives younger patients a real sense that what they have to say is important and matters."

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