How children’s hospital puts smiles back on burn victims

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How children’s hospital puts smiles back on burn victims

Cape facility is taking the pain out of healing - and saving money and cutting down queues to boot

Cape Town bureau chief


When children suffer serious burns it marks the start of a tortuous healing process for them and their families.
But an experiment at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town has removed a lot of the pain and inconvenience from the road to recovery, at the same time as saving money and reducing queues.
Dr Roux Martinez, medical officer in the hospital’s paediatric burns unit, said 41 parents were given a supply of dressings and shown how to change them.
“The dressing standard ... was excellent. The desired wound progress was achieved in the majority of cases,” Martinez and paediatric surgeon Professor Heinz Rode said in a letter to the the South African Medical Journal.
The parents WhatsApped photographs of their children’s burns to doctors. “Dressing advice was given in 30 cases, six children were called back for skin-graft surgery, two were asked to return to outpatient clinics and three were readmitted to hospital,” said Martinez and Rode.
They said the experiment had been so successful that it “could become a blueprint for the future management of patients not requiring specialised clinics, but retaining specialised care”.
The burns unit at Red Cross admits more than 1,000 patients a year, and twice in the past five years it has become overwhelmed by outpatient visits.
“In 2013 ... drastic measures had to be taken and dressing practices were changed from three-day dressings to seven-day long-acting silver dressings, with an immediate reduction in the number of patients,” said Martinez and Rode.
Population growth – the Western Cape gains 2,700 new child residents a month – caused another crisis in 2017, and this time the hospital decided to respond positively to parents’ requests to change their children’s dressings. “The standard procedure included a practical dressing demonstration by the reviewing doctor, a written instruction sheet, a timeline of dates for dressing changes and photo reviews,” said the doctors.
“Parents were grateful to be empowered and to be part of the healing process of their child. They appreciated not losing work or school time and were very diligent in sending regular wound updates.”

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