Designers Create Kid-Friendly Medical Scanners to Ease Children’s Fears

November 07, 2017

Anyone who has ever had an MRI or CT scan knows that it can be an intimidating experience, even as an adult. You have to lie completely still in this small, noisy machine for several minutes, sometimes for over half an hour.

GE Healthcare industrial designer, Doug Dietz, noticed that this was a particularly traumatizing experience for children and decided to do something about it. His project has now turned the imaging departments of 27 children’s hospitals into little theme parks.

Before their project began, many medical imaging departments were having trouble keeping children calm for the imaging process to take place. “Children would cling to their mom’s leg and start crying, and you would have to pry them off,” said Kathleen Kapsin, the radiology director at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “Now they walk in, and they are excited.”

Terrified children and worried parents slowed down the amount of scans the hospitals could do each day. The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh had to sedate nearly every child under the age of nine who needed a scan. This meant calling in an anesthesiologist for every child scanned.

Children told the designers that the small opening of the machines was the scariest part. “One of our designers said it looks like everything your mother told you to stay away from,” said fellow designer Erik Kemper.

It all started when Dietz was visiting a children’s hospital to examine an MRI machine he helped design. During his visit, one of the patients scanned was a terrified little girl. “It just broke my heart,” he said. “It was just an awful experience.”

That’s where the idea for the “Adventure Series” theme began.

The Adventure Series of medical scanners consists of a variety of different themes for different rooms and machines. For example, an MRI is a space voyage since the machine can get loud. PET scan is “Camp Cozy” because the children need to be calm for the long scan.

“We used the children’s imagination to our advantage,” said Kapsin. “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.”

Initially, the technicians at the children’s hospitals were skeptical of the Adventure Series, but the results soon quieted all doubts. “We saw children excited and children happy instead of crying and upset,” said Kapsin.

They even had a child ask their parents if they could do it all again the next day. “That was the biggest reward I could ever have,” said Dietz.

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