Hospitals can be scary places for children to endure even without leaving the hallways – those MRI scanners, however, could make it into a real nightmare.
Magnetic resonance imaging tests and CT scans require children to lie still on a metal bed for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and the machines usually make loud noises that frighten young patients. Anywhere from 80 to 95% of patients under the age of nine required sedation in order to undergo the ordeal.
For industrial designer Doug Dietz, witnessing the trauma of the young patients was more than he could bear. He first saw the horror it caused one child when he designed an MR scanner for the University of Pittsburgh Hospital.
“I see this young family coming down the hallway and I can tell as they get closer that the little girl is weeping. 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 he looked at the room with his precious MR machine, he realized why the child was so scared.
“The room itself is kind of dark and has those flickering fluorescent lights … that machine that I had designed basically looked like a brick with a hole in it.”
The experience did have a positive outcome, however – it inspired Dietz to create the MR Adventure Discovery Series.
In partnership with GE Healthcare and the University of Pittsburgh Hospital, Dietz redesigned the rooms with the MR scanners to feature “adventure” environments that excited kids, rather than scared them.
The adventures include aromatherapy, calming decorations, and in some cases, disco-ball bubbles that transport patients to another, more imaginative world where simple commands to get the scan done accurately become part of the adventure. In one of the Adventure Series, children are asked to lie down inside of a canoe.
“They tell children to hold still so that they don’t rock the boat, and if you really do hold still, the fish will start jumping over the top of you,” Dietz explains.
The Coral City Adventure in the emergency room gives children an underwater experience. It has a disco ball that makes light-like bubbles around the room; children get into a yellow submarine and listen to the sound of harps whilst the procedure takes place. The Cozy Camp adventure gives children the chance to be scanned in a specialized sleeping bag, under a starry sky in an impressive camp setting.
Dietz says that the satisfaction that he gets from the children’s reactions made all of his hard work worth it.
“There is nothing like one of your main customers telling you this is a great idea,” Dietz said in a TED talk. “That probably was the biggest reward I could ever have.”
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Reprint Photo by University of Pittsburgh Hospital