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News

News, the occasional rant and maybe even something smart to say. If I'm going to write it down for posterity, it's going to be here.

 

Pirates, Space Ships and MRI machines

Getting healthcare scares the crap out of people. Medicine, which is pretty scientific turns otherwise sensible, scientific people into fools. They have no control, they don't know what the jargon means, they don't understand the procedures and the feedback from tests or machines isn't directed for them to understand, but to someone else - often a total stranger who they're supposed to trust. Personally as an occasional patient, I don't even like that I don't get to see the screen on medical machines when I'm being scanned, which is kind of interesting. I'm curious whether patients would be more comfortable if they could watch the screen or if they were oblivious to what was going on. Anyone know of any good studies on that? 

MRI machines are among the most intimidating machines medicine has on offer. That big capital 'M' in MRI stands for Magnetic (Resonance Imaging), and the donut shaped electromagnet in an MRI is so big that capitalizing its name does not do it enough justice. They are huge, powerful and loud. There was one next door to my Anatomy Lab, where I used to work, and you could hear it thumping away through the walls and down the hall when it was in operation. To make matters worse, you can't move while you're in one. It needs you to lie still and be a good compliant patient to get a good image of your brain, or what-have-you. You don't get to use them for fun (not like the portable ultrasound machines we had for teaching in our lab!). You only use an MRI when you're very sick, and often very scared. Now, try getting kids into one.

Actually, getting anyone into an MRI has its problems. Occasionally patients need to be sedated, which obviously isn't preferred. The specialized equipment required to keep panicky patients sedated while in the MRI is pricey and represents unneeded extra steps, clinical risks, time, cost etc. Because the magnet will make a better image when it's as close to you, or the part of you being imaged, as possible, that donut hole that you're supposed to fit through is a pretty tight fit. Claustrophobic, actually, which just makes things worse. 

However, in trying to make them better, there's a great story about an engineer working for GE Healthcare who realized how intimidating his machines were to people headed into them, particularly when those people were kids. So, instead of redesigning the machines to make them less scary, he redesigned the experience. They gave the operators scripts for pirate and space adventures, in-where, for example, the kids had to stay really still so that the pirates wouldn't catch them. They decorated the entire MRI suite, including the machine, as a pirate ship and made the whole procedure a game. This matters. 

I love these stories. Simple, creative changes make patient and practitioner experiences better. Better experiences have better outcomes. Here's a similar story, an excellent little animation by Cirkus Animation for Monash Childrens Hospital in Australia.