Patient-Friendly Pediatric Scan Suites Ease “Scanxiety”

Picture this: A child walks hand-in-hand with his parents through the hallways of a medical center as they count down the minutes until he undergoes his first imaging exam. Upon entering the scan suite, he realizes this is no ordinary hospital room. He’s immediately transported to an adventure under the sea or to a cable car ride through the streets at San Francisco, and his worries about being in a medical setting are immediately replaced by fascination about his new surroundings. 

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital at Mission Bay, this happens every day thanks to new patient-friendly scan suites. The new medical center opened its doors in 2015, and with it came advanced technology, world-class physicians, and revolutionary scan facilities. These suites – complete with colorful murals, music and sound effects, and moving images projected on the inside of the machine – are helping to ease the “scanxiety” that may come with undergoing medical imaging exams.

“Five years ago, children would enter a room for a scan and didn’t want to leave their parents arms,” explains Jeffrey Geiger, chief radiologic technologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s. “Now they leap into the room, jump up on the table, and ask about if they can come back tomorrow. When you walk in, you don’t see something off-putting, but instead something that is welcoming and friendly.”

Patients of all ages undergo imaging exams every day, but for young patients, scans may be particularly unnerving. A calm, soothing atmosphere makes a considerable difference and helps to ease pediatric patients’ scanning anxiety. The patient-friendly imaging suites focus on improving the scanning experience from start to finish.  

The newest design, unveiled this fall, is the Deep Blue Sea Adventure, the latest installment of an Adventure Series. Conceived and produced in collaboration with a healthcare manufacturer, the Deep Blue Adventure scan suite revolves around an MRI machine disguised as a yellow submarine. As patients are scanned, they are surrounded by turtles, otters, fish, and a humpback whale. The themed imaging room is the fourth in the series, joining the Cable Car, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Muir Woods adventures.

Imaging procedures take 30 minutes to an hour. Certain types of scans, like those for cancer patients, include an added level of stress due to the daunting results patients may receive. That means facilities play an important role in helping patients stay calm. One important example: When patients remain still through exams, there’s a reduced need for repeat imaging exams, which lowers potential radiation dosage exposure along with family and patient stress. 

The benefits of specially designed imaging suites are clear for patients. They also benefit radiologists and techs. In order to make accurate diagnoses, it’s imperative that imaging professionals get the best possible images, but it can be challenging if patients are antsy and unable to remain still. These new rooms make a “tremendous change,” says Geiger, as patients are at ease and beneficially distracted during the exam, resulting in a quicker, more efficient process. The new exam settings ensure that technologists, too, are more focused, decreasing the likelihood of error.

UCSF Benioff currently has a low rate of administering anesthesia to pediatric patients (approximately 15–20 percent), but the new scan suites will further reduce the number of patients who need sedation or general anesthesia before an exam. In the first week that the Deep Blue Sea suite was in use, five children who normally would have needed anesthesia got through their imaging exams without it, explained Geiger.   

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, the state-of-the-art scan suites are not the only means to making imaging easier for the youngest patients. From goggles to child life specialists who work directly with families, the hospital relies on the latest technologies and the best-trained individuals to alleviate the challenges that may come with imaging scans. In December, a “kiddie scanner” will be installed in the waiting area. This model CT/MRI shows images on a screen when dolls are put into the machine, allowing children to familiarize themselves with how imaging will work through play.

Children who need medical care sometimes have to put everyday kid-fun on hold.UCSF Imaging intends to help them keep on adventuring. Learn more about the Adventure scan suites here.  


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