Since first opening its doors in 1922, Shriners Children’s has initiated innovative treatments to create better outcomes for patients across all of the healthcare system’s pediatric specialties.
According to Shriners Children’s Chief Medical Officer, Frances A. Farley, M.D., transformative changes in pediatric healthcare always start with the child.
“Because young patients are always at the center of our care, we’re constantly looking for new, innovative ways to address that child’s needs,” she said. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see the positive impact we can make for the rest of that child’s life.”
The commitment to innovation is driven by data, added Dr. Farley. “We’re collecting information that demonstrates collaboration between clinical and research results in better outcomes, and that’s what spurs innovation.”
The impact of innovation is clearly evident in orthopedics, which encompasses a wide range of conditions including hip problems, scoliosis, limb deficiencies and discrepancies, neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy and even sports injuries. Advances in diagnosis often start with technology and interpretative data. One example of this is the innovative technology used in our motion analysis centers. In these centers, high-speed cameras, reflective markers and muscle sensors record and measure how a child moves, providing a more complete picture of how the muscles, joints and bones interact.
Shriners Children’s is also a pioneer in providing customized orthotics and prosthetics. Our Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services (POPS) teams create devices, sometimes in a matter of days, that make it possible for children with limb deficiencies or differences to participate in activities they enjoy, including playing musical instruments and sports, and have a better quality of life.
Our award-winning, internationally recognized physicians have also advanced treatment options for patients with scoliosis. For example, the medical team at Shriners Children’s Philadelphia developed the vertebral body tethering surgical procedure. This treatment is an alternative to fusion surgery for certain patients. It helps correct scoliosis while allowing a more natural motion, unlike fusion surgeries.
Shriners Children’s foundation of innovative diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation expanded to pediatric burns in the 1960s. At the time, our hospitals offering care for burn injuries were established exclusively for burns and related conditions. Our physicians and care teams contributed to many of the significant advancements in acute and reconstructive burn care.
For example, Shriners Children’s pioneered a specialized nutrition plan to reduce muscle loss. Research scientists in the healthcare system also fostered advancements in determining how much fluid to give patients in the first few hours after a burn. Additionally, physicians developed the use of cultured skin substitutes to close acute wounds more quickly. Techniques that are now considered the standard of care in burn scar reconstruction were born out of research by Shriners Children’s staff.
“The survival rate of children who have significant burns has dramatically improved thanks to the remarkable evolution in both the treatment and recovery phases,” said Dr. Farley. She added that Shriners Children’s commitment to a wrap-around care approach is rooted in studies and research into the emotional and psychological needs of children coping with injuries and other changes.
“We’re not just treating the physical injury,” she said, “but also providing emotional and psychological support that a child and their family needs to heal.”
Spinal cord injury rehabilitation
In the 1980s, our organization began the nation’s first pediatric spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs for children and teens. These efforts provide a full spectrum of services, including tendon and nerve transfers that can sometimes bring back function and sensation, as well as a range of therapies and experiential programs to encourage confidence and independent living skills.
“With spinal cord injuries, it’s about obtaining and maintaining function,” Dr. Farley said. “We take a collaborative approach to create an individualized treatment plan so every child’s need is met. That may include music or pet therapy, school re-entry services or specialty camps.”
Shriners Children’s also offers treatment for a variety of craniofacial disorders like cleft lip and palate. We entered this field because, although facial clefts are one of the most common birth defects in the United States, comprehensive care for these conditions was often difficult to find.
We are proud that multiple Shriners Children’s locations have American Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Association approved teams. Our plastic surgeons have undergone additional training to evaluate and treat craniofacial conditions. In some locations, we offer facial and dental imaging services and 3D surgical planning for more complex surgeries.
Since the effects of a cleft condition can be complicated, our multidisciplinary team includes audiology; ear, nose and throat surgeons; specialists in dentistry and orthodontics; and speech therapists. That team may follow the child from infancy through their teenage years, providing the right care at the right time.
And research into craniofacial disorders is now being done during the prenatal phase, including research of potential genetic factors that may impact craniofacial anomalies. “We’re investigating the genetic basis of how a face is formed so we can better understand when a cleft condition occurs,” Dr. Farley said.
The commitment to innovation 100 years ago still stands today because of Shriners Children’s unwavering goal: to change and improve the lives of children. We are facing the next 100 years with the same motivation to innovate and look forward to what the future brings.