Undertaking medical procedures is mostly never pleasant. Especially being awake throughout procedures often makes people anxious. However, these procedures are medically necessary and can most of the time not been avoided. With pediatric patients, these procedures can be particularly difficult. This is what an Industrial Engineer had to notice after developing and designing an MRI Scanner.
After Doug Dietz, an Industrial Engineer working for GE Healthcare developed an MRI Scanner, he paid a visit to his product as he was very excited to finally see it in action. It fulfilled him with proud, that he had developed such an important medical device. However, what he encountered in the hospital shocked him. The device giving him such pride put children through their worst fears. Doug Dietz noticed a girl crying before undertaking the MRI scan and her stressed-out, worried parents who had to put their child through this and watch helplessly.
With the perspective of this child, Doug Dietz noticed, that the whole room was cold, sterile, and dark. He himself said in his TED Talk that the machine looked like a brick with a whole in it. He also found out, that 80% of the children undergoing an MRI Scan need to be sedated so that they keep still and the scan can be used in the end. This information combined with the emotions he noticed in the hospital inspired him to redesign his scanners and develop children-friendly rooms for medical scanners like MRIs, CTs and X-Rays.
Activities and Participants
Doug Dietz decided to use design thinking to find inspiration for his project as it is very human-centered. His goal was to look at everything through the eyes of a child and understand their needs to better cope with the procedures. He therefore especially focused on the empathize phase.
To really understand how children think and perceive their environment, he performed several activities and consulted a cross-functional team, typical for the design thinking approach. First, he visited a day care center to observe children’s behavior and gain empathy for them and their way of thinking. To understand the specialties of the medical procedures and what pediatric patients are going through, he then observed children undergoing procedures and consulted doctors and child life specialists.
Also, he integrated a Brainstorming session with children at the Betty Brinn children’s museum. This museum focuses on different needs of children like sensory-friendly sessions for kids with autism. In this Brainstorming session, sketches, that were later included into the design thinking process, were created by children themselves.
With the gained information and more input from talks with other managers and users of existing products, he started an iterative process of improving his ideas, resulting in a first prototype. This prototype was installed in a children’s hospital as a first pilot program.
Starting with the first prototype, an entire Series of several children-friendly scanners, called the Adventure Series, was created. The scanners are placed and included into adventure-themed rooms to appeal to the children’s senses with sights, sounds and smells. The goal is to tickle the children’s’ imagination.
The idea is to let children immerse in a world of adventure as soon as they enter the room. Through involving the scanner in a story and putting the child into the role of a main character in that story, the children were excited to achieve the given task of keeping still.
One example of a created scanner is the Jungle Adventure for Nuclear Medicine. When entering the room, one can notice a relaxing, soothing water sent. Also, there are rocks on the floor on the way to the scanner, which tickles children’s imagination resulting in them only stepping on the rocks. In that moment they already entered the adventure world. Then there is a waterfall cascading from the wall that is floating into a koi pond, in which the scanner is positioned. The scanner itself is designed as a canoe that lowers down into the pond when the children hop onto it. The children are then told that it is necessary to keep still as they might rock the boat otherwise. In addition to that, the children are told that if they keep still, the fish will start jumping around them. As they are painted onto the detectors moving around the patients, this will happen as soon as the procedure starts.
In two years, only 2 children had to be sedated to undergo the procedure in this room.
Another example is the CT scanner in a cozy camp theme. The setting with purple walls and stars all over them reminds of the night. The table is designed as a sleeping bag in which the child will spend the night at the camp. The machine itself is painted like a tent and the sleeping back moves into it when the procedure starts. The children can see their parents wait inside the camper painted around the observation room. Laying in a sleeping back in a tent next to a campfire painted on the wall gives them the feeling of sleeping outside under the stars and makes them keep still throughout the procedure.
A third example is the Pirate Island Adventure CT scanner. In this adventure the patient enters a pirate ship. They can walk on a plank that is painted onto the floor to get to the scanner. There are sandcastles and a shipwreck painted onto the walls. Around the machine, there is a big wooden steering wheel which optically widens the machine and lowers the claustrophobic feeling when entering it. The story around it is, that the children sail inside the pirate ship. Of course, they must keep still while being on the ship. After the procedure the children can pick a small gift from the pirate’s treasure chest.
Another aspect considered in this room is relaxing the parents. This is done by using a sent that reminds the parents of piña colada. This makes parents think about nicer moments compared to the sterile smell of a hospital. This relaxation of the parents also switches onto the kids. Doug Dietz says that if you get the parents, you get the child and vice versa.
An amazing result of this room is that after undertaking this procedure, a little girls asked her mum whether they could come back the next day. She perceived this as a game rather than as a medical procedure.
Overall, the redesigning of the scanners and their rooms led to a dramatic reduce of the number of children that had to be sedated to undergo the procedure. Another effect is, that undertaking the procedures didn’t take as much time as before, when kids had to be sedated or pictures needed to be retaken due to the children moving around. Through this, the hospitals can increase the patient volume which shortens the waiting time for a scan.
What this case study of a design thinking application teaches us is that empathy for the users is one of the most important requirements for a successful innovation or the further development of an existing product or service. In this example it was essential that the industrial designer left out his own view on the product and looked at it through the eyes of children. This should not just be done once in the beginning of the project, but it is necessary to always look back at the empathize stage and make sure that the followed path still fits what the empathize phase showed. Doug Dietz himself said in his TED Talk that empathy was the heart of this project.
Doug Dietz measures his personal success by having an influence on the conversation the families have before and after the procedure, not in numbers, which again shows the importance of empathizing with your customers.