Child Life and Xploro: a partnership for expanded care
Stefan Agamanolis, Xploro’s Chief Strategy Officer, takes a look at the vitally important role played by Child Life Specialists and the value that Xploro can add as part of the Child Life toolkit.
Child Life Specialists, or Health Play Specialists as they are known in the UK, are healthcare professionals who specialize in providing emotional and psychosocial support to children and their families facing medical challenges. They primarily work in hospitals and clinics, helping children understand medical procedures, diagnoses, and how to cope with the stresses of healthcare. Using play or other developmentally appropriate methods and collaborating within wider healthcare teams, child life specialists play a vital role in reducing children’s anxiety, improving medical outcomes, and enhancing their overall well-being during medical experiences.
In my previous role leading patient experience at a children’s hospital, studies we conducted revealed that the opportunity to work with a child life specialist often left strong positive impressions with patients and their families that drove the overall memory of their care experience, even if there were other rough spots along their journey. Nevertheless, as child life specialists are sometimes painfully aware, they can’t be present at every moment and in every environment in which a child may be receptive to learning. High patient volumes and staffing constraints lead to some gaps, but sometimes the patient is simply at home in the days to weeks in advance of a planned procedure and can’t easily visit the clinical facility.
'Blood draws' storybook created with Play Specialists from Ormskirk & District General Hospital
'IVs' storybook created with Child Life professionals from OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital
'Port access' storybook created with Child Life professionals from Comer Children's Hospital
Working in partnership with Child Life
We designed Xploro to be a high-tech tool in the toolbox of today’s modern child life specialists, to deepen their impact and enable them to reach more patients than may have been possible otherwise. Much of the content in Xploro has been created in close partnership with child life specialists.
For example, Jessica Calvert, MA, CCLS, at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital played a key role in shaping the IV (cannulation) interactive storybook in Xploro. When we developed our ‘Blood Draws‘ module the health play specialists at Ormskirk and District General Hospital provided essential guidance on the script so that it accurately reflected the words they use with children to reduce needle anxiety. This latter collaboration was so effective that an evaluation (Bray et al, 2024) found that 94% of children using the module said it helped them with their blood draw as they ‘knew what to expect.’
Lisa Wolff, MS, CCLS, and Emily Matchett, RN, BSN, CPN, at Comer Children’s Hospital have been working with Xploro to create content around port access that will soon be going live. Lisa remarked: “We see Xploro as a way to add power to the concepts we cover with oncology patients in person, and to reinforce information and keep the patient and family engaged in between visits.”
As child life specialists, we understand that it’s not possible for us to be with our patients and their families during every challenging moment they face, both inside and outside the hospital. That’s why we focus on empowering families, teaching them valuable skills and providing them with essential tools. Our goal is to ensure that families feel confident and prepared to handle difficult situations wherever they may be. With resources like Xploro and Child Life On Call, we’re able to greatly expand the availability of family-centered tools. These resources are crucial for fostering positive coping strategies in situations where direct support from a child life specialist isn’t available.
Katie Taylor CCLS, CEO and Founder of Child Life On Call
Expanding the reach of Child Life with digital tools
While clinical practices are often quite similar between institutions, even in different countries, there can be differences as well, which is one reason we designed Xploro to be fully customizable by child life and other team members, right down to the specific ways our chatbot will answer a question to word choice in our interactive storybooks. For example, one of our customers wanted to change a reference about numbing cream to numbing spray in Xploro’s IV storybook, to align with standard processes at that institution. Uniquely, we also have an “expert” advisory board of children between 6 to 16 years old from varying backgrounds that helps vet everything that goes into the app.
Xploro can extend the cost savings that child life specialists generate for the health care system, especially at times and in places that are currently out of reach for conventional interventions. By reducing anxiety and improving preparation in a fun and engaging way, Xploro can help shorten procedure times, reduce cancellations, and minimize the need for sedation or general anesthesia. Through games and other interactive content, patients can stay better engaged within a hospital as well as in between visits, leading to better management of recovery processes or chronic conditions and, in turn, less reliance on expensive higher-acuity health services.
Xploro looks forward to deepening our partnership with child life specialists and helping to maximize the benefit of this under-appreciated profession for the broadest possible population of patients.