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'Scary' CT Scans Get Kid-Friendly Makeover

Anyone whose gotten a CT scan knows how disconcerting the process can be. The machines might do excellent diagnostic work, but they also frighten many young patients.

"You have these big monster pieces of equipment a lot of them, especially the MRI machines can make a lot of noise can be very scary, and the experience of doing that, especially for children, can be very traumatic," says Doug Dietz of Waukesha-based GE Healthcare, which makes such imaging equipment.

Dietz says many children, especially those between three and eight-years-old, have to be sedated to get scans, about 80 percent of the time. This is so the child will remain still, the scans come out clearly.

Dietz has designed such equipment for years, but says he, and others in the industry, took a myopic approach.

"I'll be honest with you, when I looked at some of the things I did in product design, whether that's designing a new CT or MR scanner, and then seeing these families going through this experience and struggling with that... I really felt like I failed at my job," he says. "If my job is to design, I stopped at just doing the piece of machinery itself and I didn't look at the experience."

After this "life-changing" realization, Dietz set out to do something about the scary CT scan. As GE Healthcare's “innovation architect," he developed the Adventure Series, a child-friendly design for imaging machines.

For example, in the "camping scene" design, the scanner is made to look like a huge tent, and the table, a sleeping bag. Even the window where the technologist sits during the scan is made to look like the window of an old domed camper. Another pirate adventure scene includes shipwreck and beach designs.

"Their imagination is so rich and they can just come up with these ideas," Dietz says. "Well, why don't we with Adventure Series...allow them to take themselves and bring their family along with them to a special place, so when they go through the scan, actually it could be something that could be maybe even fun?"

The Adventure Series machines are designed to try to ease the "anxiety journey" of young patients, Dietz says, and perhaps they are most effective for kids who have had multiple treatments.

"As soon as they see the hospital, they know what's going on," he says. "And then they see a scanner that's making crazy noises and the tears start to come, and that's really where we wanted to focus with Adventure Series of, 'How can we just totally change that whole environment?'"

Dietz says the Adventure Series designs have gotten great results so far. Hospitals report being able to scan more children, an increase of about seven percent in patient volume. This surprised Dietz.

"My hypothesis was they would get less kids because they'd want to play around," he says. "We have cool characters, they're going to want to name them and hug them, but they actually are able to get them past the threshold to get them up on the table to get ready for a scan quicker, so they are able to get more patients through."

The designs are in use in pediatric hospitals and units around the country – but so far, not in Milwaukee.