Surprisingly, between 80 to 95 percent of patients under the age of nine who undergo Magnetic resonance imaging tests and CT scans must be sedated. This is because the large machines — which require patients to lie still on a metal bed for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes — are loud and quite frightening to children. Fortunately for young patients at the University of Pittsburgh Hospital, a handful MRI machines are now kid-friendly, thanks to industrial designer Doug Dietz.
Dietz first learned that most children fear the MRI machine when he was designing an MR scanner for the University of Pittsburgh Hospital. He said, “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’.”
As the duo walked into the MR suite, Dietz realized what the experience must be like for the young girl. “Everything was kind of like, beige. The room itself is kind of dark and has those flickering fluorescent lights.” He added “that machine that I had designed basically looked like a brick with a hole in it.”
As the MRI machine made a terrible noise, the girl began to cry. “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 explained. This was the industrial designer’s wakeup call — and it resulted in a plan: create an environment that was so welcoming, children would feel like being scanned is an adventure, not a hardship.
In partnership with GE Health and the University of Pittsburgh Hospital, Dietz redesigned the rooms with MR scanners to feature “adventure” environments. He implemented aromatherapy, soothing decorations, and — in some cases — disco-balls.
Each room has its own theme — which sparks even more excitement. In one room, children are asked to lie down in a canoe to receive their CAT scan. “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 explained. In the Pirate Adventure, a patient feels as if they have stepped into a surreal movie scene. In addition to a shipwreck, there are sand castles in the corner. Children lay on the plank to be scanned.
In the Coral City Adventure — which is in the emergency room, children experience what it is like to be underwater. The disco ball makes light bubbles around the room, creating the facade of being in the ocean’s depths. Kids can crawl into a submarine and listen to harps, whilst they are operated on. And finally, the Cozy Camp makes children feel as if they are under a starry sky in a cozy camp setting. They lie in a specialized sleep bag while they are scanned.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, as children and parents have benefited from the design transformation. Dietz says the hard work was worth it, as the children’s reactions constantly remind him that he did the right thing. “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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