Patients love therapy dogs at NCH Medical Group

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Northwest Community Healthcare’s (NCH) Medical Group office in Arlington Heights hosts friendly visits from dogs that participate in NCH's animal-assisted therapy program.

The waiting rooms at Northwest Community Healthcare’s (NCH) Medical Group office in Arlington Heights are a little more cheerful these days as patients enjoy visits from loving dogs that participate in NCH’s Animal-Assisted Therapy program.

While NCH’s therapy dogs have been visiting patients at the hospital in Arlington Heights since 2007, the friendly canines are making their first appearances at NCH Medical Group physician offices at 1051 W. Rand Road in Arlington Heights. NCH is planning to expand the therapy dog program to NCH Medical Group offices in Buffalo Grove, Mt. Prospect, and Schaumburg.

“The patients’ faces light up when the therapy dogs make a visit to the waiting room,” says Diane Ryzner, an advanced practice nurse who helped bring the therapy dogs to the Medical Group office. “The dogs put their minds at ease and make the wait a lot more enjoyable. Patients simply love the dogs.”

For patient Mary Pinski, who was visiting “Lucy” the therapy dog in the waiting room on a recent morning, the joy of petting a dog brought her mind to ease while waiting for her appointment. “The best thing was that the climate in the waiting room was one of joy, rather than one of pain and fear,” Pinski says. “I am always impressed with NCH Medical Group’s willingness to try innovative services to make the patient experience more pleasant. Bringing therapy dogs into the waiting room is a service that should be expanded.”

Pinski tells a story common among NCH patients. A loving dog can assist in reducing a patient’s stress, pain, anxiety and loneliness. Interaction between patients and pets can raise a person’s spirits and improve their health by lowering blood pressure and accelerating recovery times.

In 2012, the hospital’s 69 therapy dogs and their handlers made 13,167 patient visits. Since the program’s inception in 2007, therapy dogs have made nearly 54,000 patient visits in all areas of the hospital except the emergency department.

The NCH Medical Group is looking to expand the use of therapy dogs and build off of the success at the hospital. The Animal-Assisted Therapy program is accepting applications for teams, which consist of a dog and its handler, who must be the owner of the pet and at least 18 years old. Therapy dogs can be any breed, must be in good health, obedient, enjoy people and get along with other dogs.

Qualifying dogs go through a two-hour temperament and obedience evaluation by professional dog trainers. Teams that pass will attend a three-day training course at the hospital that includes mock and trainer-supervised patient visits and a briefing on hospital policies and infection control practices.

To learn more about the NCH Medical Group and to view physician bios and videos, visit

About NCH Medical Group
NCH Medical Group is the physician group belonging to the Northwest Community Healthcare comprehensive, patient-centered system of care that serves more than 350,000 outpatients each year, as well as nearly 30,000 inpatients treated annually at the 496-bed acute care hospital in Arlington Heights. NCH Medical Group treats approximately 60,000 patients each year from the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The practice has 68 doctors, representing family practice medicine, gastroenterology, dermatology, endocrinology, neurology and rheumatology.
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Patrick Reilly
Northwest Community Healthcare
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