Soothing pediatric imaging fears: Experts discuss options

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 18, 2019
The Marina room is one of many themes
offered by GE's Adventure Series, which
transforms scanner rooms into other
worlds for patients to gaze at and
imagine exploring during imaging exams.
From the March 2019 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

A 16-year-old boy walked down the hall of the newly opened UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital for what he thought would be another nerve-wracking MR scan to monitor an ongoing medical condition. But his fears vanished instantly as he entered the MR suite and came face-to-face with a “boat”, surrounded by “scuba tanks” and a backdrop that looked like the San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

As the MR technologist instructed him to hop aboard, the teen was comforted by the make-believe and was able to undergo the scan with greater ease – and for the first time ever, without anesthesia.

“It was a profound experience for me because here was a kid who’s been struggling through his MRs,” Dr. John MacKenzie, associate professor of radiology and chief of pediatric radiology at UCSF Benioff, told HCB News. “Any time that you’re not spending trying to convince a kid to hop onto an MR table and cooperate, the quicker a scan can go. We’ve spent a lot of time building these patient experiences and it worked, right out of the gate. I’ll always remember that moment.”

The boat, in reality, was the MR scanner, surrounded by a painted picture of the San Francisco Wharf area and oxygen and anesthesia tanks designed to look like scuba gear. All are elements of the marina theme, one of many designs offered by GE Healthcare’s Adventure Series, which transforms MR rooms into environments in which imaging is less scary and more inviting.

Like Benioff, many providers have sought out a range of new technologies to mitigate fears of imaging and the challenges they create. Doing so, however, requires an understanding of where the fear arises from and what resources, in and outside of technology, are required to help children cooperate to produce high-quality images for accurate diagnoses.

The Fear Factor
Undergoing an imaging exam is relatively harmless, with the most painful part being an injection, if required.

For adults, a task like this is easy. But for a child, it is unknown territory and can be a reminder of previous, painful experiences. “A lot of kids have been primed to be fearful of doctors because of immunizations and blood draws,” said Dr. Nadja Kadom, director of pediatric Neuroradiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “When you think of MR imaging, it’s not only the machine that’s scary but the enclosed space. It’s the head coil for neuro imaging. It’s a table you’re strapped on to, feeling helpless. It’s the noise. It can be a very traumatic experience.”

Many children often are unsure of how to process and communicate fear, causing them to feel anxious during procedures and not cooperate with the technologist. This is commonly expressed in their inability to remain still during exams, a crucial component in producing quality images for accurate diagnoses.

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