Social Emergency Medicine
Background: Patients in the Emergency Department (ED) experience a high level of acute anxiety. Exposure to therapy dogs has been shown to reduce patient anxiety. Firstly, we want to explore patients’ willingness to interact with a canine. Secondly, we hypothesize that patients with acute anxiety in the ED who are exposed to a therapy dog will have decreased anxiety when compared to usual care.
Methods: In a controlled clinical trial (NCT03471429) adult patients were approached in the ED if their treating provider believed that they had “moderate or greater” anxiety. Patients who agreed were allocated 1:1 into the dog group (n = 40) and the control group (usual care) (n = 40). Anxiety scores were collected on the FACES scale (0-10, 10 = worst). Scores were collected at baseline (T0, prior to dog or control), and then again, about 30 min after exposure to the dog or usual care (T1). Patients with a baseline anxiety score of 0 were considered screen failures. A Fisher’s Exact Test was used to determine the relationship between the dog group and the control group and the change in the patient's anxiety score.
Results: A total of 110 patients were approached for this study, 12 of which were not interested in research. Among the remaining 98, 7 had direct dog-related exclusions because of fear of dogs (n=2), history of dog bite (n=1), or dislike of dogs (n=4). Between T0 and T1, 38.7% of subjects in the dog group had decreased anxiety compared to 20.0% of subjects in the control group. 11.2% of subjects in the dog group had no change in anxiety level compared to 27.5% in the control group. 0.0% of subjects in the dog group had increased anxiety compared to 2.5% in the control group. There is a statistically significant difference between the proportion of patients whose anxiety decreased among the groups with those patients in the dog group being more likely to have decreased anxiety than those in the no dog group (p= 0.0017).
Conclusion: Patients in the ED were generally agreeable to seeing a therapy dog. A 15-minute visit with a therapy dog was associated with significantly higher proportion of of patients with improved anxiety compared with controls. These findings support the use of therapy dogs to alleviate patient anxiety in the ED.