I don’t fear a lot of things in life, but there are two evils on my list of irrational fears that cause cold sweats at the mere thought of them – heights and small space.
While I’m not so claustrophobic that an elevator would give me pause, the idea of crawling into the medical monster known as an MRI machine gives me the fits. It’s not an uncommon fear either. Plenty of people develop panic attacks or uncomfortable anxiety when asked to spend an hour in a small metal tube.
Children in particular, it seems, can be so frightened by an MRI that they need to be sedated. Which is why a physicist who works for the UK NHS decided to use VR as a way to help the terrified little sprogs to prepare themselves.
See a Need, Fill a Need
The physicist in question is one Jonathan Ashmore, who posted his personal story through The Guardian. While he’s not a medical doctor, his office happens to be next to the room where MRIs are done. I suppose the walls of the hospital must be pretty thin, because this beleaguered scientist has to spend his days listening to the wailing of frightened children (and adults) while trying to keep the complex medical technologies running.
It seems that at some point a solution was needed to this obvious shortcoming of MRI technology. So he came up with the rather brilliant idea of creating a VR app to help patients deal with the magnetic terror in a more constructive way.
How It Works
You first thought might have been that they’ve put VR headset on people going into the MRI, presenting them with a field of puppies or some other soothing and expansive landscape. Unfortunately no electronic device will work in the incredibly powerful magnetic field, so what they have actually done is the reverse.
The VR app uses 360-degree video to show kids what their MRI experience will be like. It prepares them for what’s to come in a safe environment before they actually have to go through it for real.
This is effectively a sort of exposure therapy, which has a long history in VR. By making kids used to the experience, the real deal won’t be as alarming. They have also been able to use the app to train kids who have trouble holding still. Too much movement will make the MRI blurry, after all. The creator of the app says that it’s already in use with several hospitals, with more showing interest.
This is a fantastic example of how relatively simple VR tools can make a real difference. Good job guys!