September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and we are publishing a series of blog posts to share stories about GE’s work related to imaging and treatment. This guest post from the Global Design Team at GE Healthcare highlights one unique project that is making life a bit easier for children battling cancer. Click here to read a previous post.
Strolling down a beach; sinking into a bubble bath; sitting by a warm fire with a good book; and getting a medical scan. If we asked you to rank these experiences in the order you’d most look forward to them, which one would be last? For most people, the medical scan would be in last place. Even for adults, the medical environment can be an intimidating and even scary place. Now imagine that you’re a child in this terrifying world. A world where imagination, exploration, and fun are totally absent.
For families trying to navigate the medical system, including those going through extended cancer care, it is a frightening experience. Anything that adds to their child’s discomfort, and takes away from their child’s wellness, is unwelcome. So the hospital’s radiology department, with its large, unfamiliar, ominous scanners, is often a huge speed bump in making the overall experience of receiving medical treatment go well. Does it have to be this way? The Global Design team at GE Healthcare doesn’t believe it should.
Coming in for repeated scans is not easy and children will hold onto their parent’s leg to try and avoid the scan, often collapsing in tears. Yet for children who require repeated scans – like those battling pediatric cancers – having a positive experience in the radiology department is crucial to ensuring their treatment proceeds smoothly. If a child can’t hold still throughout a scan, the scan will have to be restarted and the child will get another dose of radiation. Often pediatric patients are sedated in order to get through a scan – another medical procedure for these tiny patients to undergo. And if a pediatric cancer patient has a bad experience, they will still have to return for many more scans – a stressful proposition. [Click here to read one GE family’s story about dealing with pediatric cancer.]
By designing products with the family and patient journey in mind, GE is transforming the radiology environment into an immersive adventure for children and families. Ordinary events, like entering the scan room, now turn into a journey that starts with walking on rocks along a river in the hospital hallway, entering the room across a mossy bridge, and standing on the back of a large tortoise to approach the table. And that scan table that was once a cold, unwelcoming piece of equipment is now a hollowed out log that looks like a canoe floating on the river. All of this happening in a room that looks, smells, and feels as much like the surrounding theme as we can manage.
The transformation is more than just graphics and décor though. The immersive environment becomes a stage for a story to be built: A story that captures the imagination of the people in this world and frames the experience and activities in a positive light. The Technologist, who sometimes even dresses up in costume, asks the child: “Have you been in a canoe before? …Good, remember you need to stay still so you don’t rock the boat.” As the child climbs into the canoe, the Tech adds: “and if you hold really still, the fish will start jumping out of the water all around you.” Holding still – a requirement for nearly all usable scans and a challenge for almost all children – now becomes part of the adventure. And just like that, the detectors that slowly rotate around them for the scan and the necessity to hold still all make sense to the child. All because of the large fish graphics applied to the scanner’s surface and the story that started out in the hallway.
There are other adventures that complement one another to make the entire department an oasis in an often beige, hermetic, fluorescent-colored landscape. CT is a pirate adventure or a nautical trip in a submarine. MRI is a trip through space or a safari adventure. X-ray is an adventure ride in a yellow raft. These themes even use the once scary sounds of the equipment’s rotating pieces as components of the story – they become the sound of a spaceship going into warp speed or of a cable car clanking on the tracks through the city. There are more than 20 GE Adventure Series offerings across scan modalities.
With the introduction of the Adventure Series, hospitals have reported significant reductions in the number of pediatric patients who require sedation for scans, and hospitals also have eliminated patient backlogs that were as long as 18 days: these changes represent dramatic increase in overall patient satisfaction. Additionally, these compelling adventures have led children to utter a phrase never before heard in radiology departments and once-scary medical environments: “Can we come back tomorrow?” For those children who have to come back for follow-up exams to monitor treatment, this is especially impactful. Treatment plans for pediatric cancers often have children coming back in excess of 20 times.
These improvements don’t just impact the patients; they have a real impact on the doctors, nurses, and technologists who work with them. Rather than having to force children to have a scan they are afraid of, these medical professionals are able to focus on guiding the child through the adventure and, by extension, the procedure. This helps create a virtuous, rather than vicious, cycle in which patients, their families, and the medical professionals caring for them can build a positive relationship for as healthy an outcome as possible.
GE is working to change the story in radiology, and it’s just the beginning.
Thanks to Douglas Dietz, Erik Kemper, and Megan Wimmer of the Global Design Team at GE Healthcare for contributing this guest blog post.