MRI Video Goggles: Making MRI Experience Fun for Kids

The following article was written by Jesse Courtier, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatric Radiology at UCSF.

I am very interested in new ways to better see and understand small structures in our tiniest patients.  As a pediatric radiologist, my career focuses on peering inside children with medical imaging. The imaging map I create helps guide diagnoses and treatments. However, children tend to move a lot and it can be difficult to obtain high quality images. One technique that we have found to be very useful is to have our patients watch movies during their MRI.

Anyone who has worked with children knows that it is hard to get a child to be still for a family photo, but try five full minutes.  MRI examinations require that the patient hold incredibly still for long periods of time. And a good MRI picture may take up to five minutes to acquire with a child holding perfectly still.  Although my research focuses on improving MRI technology to image small structures more rapidly with high image quality, sometimes more straightforward techniques help.

One area where we have been very successful is in having pediatric patients watch movies during MRI exams. The video goggles we use at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital help our patients relax and hold still.  Children enjoy their favorite movies and tend to remain quiet and still so that we can obtain high quality images with the MRI.   The better we can see, the more information we have to help understand what might be wrong. Children may bring their own favorite movies or choose from a range of selections in the department. Also, the goggles allow the patient to see the face of the MRI technologist who can give them reassurance or any instructions needed during the exam.

MRI has become an increasingly utilized tool for several good reasons. MRI does not use ionizing radiation, which is a tremendous benefit in young patients. Recent advances in MRI also help us obtain a great deal of useful and detailed information and can answer questions we have not been able to answer previously. The downside is that portions of the MRI examinations are very sensitive to patient motion and require the patient to be absolutely still. Any motion can distort the exam, making it very difficult to read. Understandably, this process can be challenging for young children. Thus far, solutions to this problem have been to use general anesthesia (patient is completely asleep) or conscious sedation (patients are in a lighter state of sleep) for MRI in young children. When we use the goggles, we are often able to minimize the use of anesthesia and sedation. Our youngest patients have also been prepped for the MRI experience with the aid of our Child Life specialists (experts in guiding children through medical experiences).  Using this approach, children as young as four years of age, who previously would have required general anesthesia, have successfully undergone their MRI scans at UCSF with no sedation at all.

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital we strive to provide the absolute best in imaging for our patients. The MRI goggles are just one of many examples that help provide the best imaging care for pediatric patients.