Transforming an MRI scan into a playful experience

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A new play-based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) simulation at the IWK is helping to prepare patients for the procedure before they are tested with the full-scale equipment. The simulator is the result of a collaboration between Dalhousie engineering students, diagnostic imaging staff and Child Life staff at the IWK.

MRI’s provide clear images of a body’s soft tissues that X-rays simply are unable to see. Unfortunately, the machines can be frightening to children as they are loud and confining. Children must lie very still while having an MRI, and often, anesthesia is needed for children between three and eight years of age.

It is hoped that the brightly painted MRI simulator will reduce the number of procedures requiring anesthesia by acclimating children to the MRI and assessing whether they will require sedation. Avoiding sedation not only improves the children’s recovery time and reduces the risks associated with anesthesia; it also means less time in the hospital for families. Parents would not need to take the whole day off work. The child could go back to school. And anesthesiologists would be able to look after other patients.

In the summer of 2020, a new MRI Suite was installed at the IWK. It was during that project the desire was identified to include an MRI simulator in the waiting room to allow pediatric patients to get used to the imaging equipment prior to their examination.

IWK Radiologist, Dr. Pierre Schmit had started to campaign for a MRI simulator as early as 2008. The inspiration had come from New York radiologist, Dr. Benjamin Taragin, who first constructed a Lego MRI scanner with his son.

This desire struck inspiration with Colleen Rollings, the IWK project manager for the MRI replacement project who also has a part time role as an engineer-in-residence at Dalhousie University. She submitted the MRI simulator as a Capstone Project idea.

“Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Engineering curriculum includes a Capstone Project that matches student teams with partners from industry, providing real problems from industry for teams to solve,” Rollings says. “The team assigned to the IWK MRI project was asked to design and build a simulator with realistic noise to allow pediatric patients to get used to the imaging equipment prior to their examination. The simulator had to meet guidelines for installation in a health care environment with suitable materials and infection control cleaning requirements.”

The students engineered a model simulator that was installed in the MRI waiting room in January. They even managed to ensure the simulator was integrated into the space technology theme chosen by the Family Leadership Council.

“The new MRI provided the opportunity and with the support of many, this beautiful, playful MRI simulator became a reality,” says Dr. Naeem Khan, Chief of the Department of Radiology at IWK Health. “We are very delighted with the outcome and know many of our patients will benefit from it.”

The team would like to acknowledge Granby Industries in Waverly, Nova Scotia and Dalhousie University for their support.