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These “Kid-Friendly” Imaging Scanners Are Making Medical Procedures Far Less Scary

As a small child who’s about to have an MRI, CAT scan, or other medical imaging scan, imagine what you’d be faced with: The shaky fluorescent lights of the hospital room. The cold, uninviting beige walls of the scanning room. And the menacing mouth (or “bore”) of the tunnel in which you are about to enter … and stay inside of, for maybe 10 to to 45 LOUD, clattering minutes.

Terrified can’t even begin to describe how most children must feel at the prospect of entering one of those machines. I’m a grown-up and I get queasy just thinking about being stuck in one for any amount of time. That fear must be a million times worse for a tiny, helpless child.

Enter Doug Dietz, a medical industrial engineer for GE Healthcare who is on the forefront of solving that problem. A few years ago, Dietz witnessed a young girl about to enter the room for her MRI. As he watched her sob and cry at her parents’ feet in sheer terror at the prospect of having the procedure done, Dietz came up with a great idea. What if the medical scanning devices themselves were turned into fun, inviting, adventure-scapes instead of the cold, eerie, clunky medical equipment that they typically are?

“I see this young family coming down the hallway and I can tell as they get closer that the little girl is weeping,” recalls Dietz in a press release on GE Healthcare’s website. “As they get even closer to me, I notice the father leans down and just goes, ‘Remember we talked about this. You can be brave,’” says Dietz.

As Dietz walked with the family into the MRI room, he began to see the environment through the little girl’s eyes, and realized just how scary a machine like this must look like to a young child.

“The parents are looking at each other and they don’t have to say a word, because they don’t know how they’re going to get their child through this,” Dietz recalled.

It was in that moment that Dietz realized something needed to change, because medical scanning should not be a panic-inducing experience for children and their families.

And it turned out Dietz was the perfect person to fix this. Soon after this experience, Dietz and his team began to design the “Adventure Series” medical scanning machines. The series debuted as a pilot program at the University of Pittsburg Hospital, and since have been installed in hospitals all over. And let me tell you: They are about as amazing as the sound.

imaging machine
Image Source: GE Healthcare

According to a write-up in the Milwaukie Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, there are several different themes for the various types of scanning machines. For example, MRI machines have a “space voyage” theme, and technicians are instructed to tell kids that they are entering a spaceship going into “hyper-drive” when the machine becomes loud. PET scans are called “Camp Cozy,” because in this machine, kids need to be calm, and must endure the test for 45 full minutes.

GE Healthcare has gone so far as developing different themes for specific hospitals. One children’s hospital in San Francisco has a cable car designed room. At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the CT scan is designed as a pirate adventure.

“Instead of going to the CT scanner, you are going to Pirate Island. And when you go in, we have a monkey on a swing, so they can play with the monkey,” said Kathleen Kapsin, radiology director at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

imaging machine
Image Source: GE Healthcare

At $50,000 to $100,000 for each “room,” the “Adventure Series” isn’t cheap for hospitals. But considering it cuts down on time taken to deal with unhappy children — some of which have to sedated, which is a huge cost in and of itself — the hospitals that use them seem to find it well worth the price.

And for an extra $40,000, the hospital can purchase “goggles,” which allow kids to watch DVDs while they are in the machine. Not only does this help calm kids down during the scans, but it actually increases efficiency: A calmer child will be more compliant, and the scan can be accomplished more quickly. Despite the cost of the machine, it actually ends up reducing expenses because fewer MRI or CAT scan machines are needed when each machine is used more efficiently.

Most importantly, the happiness of a child who is already enduring a difficult medical experience cannot be underestimated for one second — and these machines seem to be doing the job of making the lives of kids who use them that much brighter.

In the past, recalls Kapsin, children at her hospital would “cling to their mom’s leg and start crying, and you would have to pry them off.” But the installation of the “Adventure Series” has made a world of difference: The experience of the children there is like night and day.

“We saw children excited and children happy instead of crying and upset,” Kapsin says. “Now they walk in and they are excited.”

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