FRIDAY, May 15, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- If laughter is the best medicine, that may be doubly true for kids undergoing surgery who were cheered up by visiting clowns, a new Israeli study suggests.
This study included children ages 2 to 16 undergoing outpatient urologic surgery at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The children were divided into two groups -- in one group, the surgical team included a "medical clown" in the operating room to help entertain the kids.
The results suggest a funny intervention can make a serious impact on kids' well-being: The clown's antics were tied to less anxiety for kids before and after surgery, less time in the operating room, lower levels of pain, and shorter time to discharge from the hospital, the study found.
There was even a financial bonus: Related reductions in surgery and recovery time led to a cost savings of more than $461 per patient, the researchers said. The study, by researcher Stanislav Kocherov, was to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA), in New Orleans.
"These data clearly demonstrate the unique role medical clowns play in reducing anxiety among children in an outpatient surgery setting as well as the amount of time spent in the hospital, which subsequently may lead to lower hospital costs," AUA spokesman Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said in an AUA news release.
While the study results should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal, two other experts in the United States agreed that laughter may have the power to help sick kids.
"This study makes sense to me -- few things could be more distracting and amusing than a funny clown," said Dr. Saidi Clemente, director of pediatric development at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. "We pediatricians have known for a long time that distraction techniques reduce anxiety prior to medical procedures, such as blood drawing for example."
Another doctor said he's seen the intervention work, first-hand.
"We have had clowns visit our patients on the pediatric ward at Northern Westchester Hospital," said Dr. Peter Richel, who is chief of pediatrics at the hospital located in Mount Kisco, N.Y. "Clearly, when the clowns arrive, they generate a feeling of good will, happiness, and compassion with their humor, all of which add to a speedier recovery for our children. There is a tremendous benefit from clowning around."
In fact, the Israeli team noted that dozens of medical clown "guilds" -- inspired by the clownish "Patch Adams" character created by Robin Williams in the movie of the same name -- have been established at hospitals in the United States, Canada and Europe over the past few decades.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about children and surgery.