etting kids ready for an MRI scan can be a nerve-wracking experience, but a novel approach using a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) playkit is showing promising results, according to early findings in the journal BMJ Innovations. Currently, children often need general anaesthesia during MRI scans due to the requirement to stay perfectly still in the noisy environment of the MRI tunnel. However, this newly designed playkit aims to alleviate the need for sedation.
The playkit, designed for children aged 4–10, involves a cardboard toy MRI scanner that the child assembles. A smartphone, slotted into the scanner, runs an augmented reality app that enables the child to take on the role of a radiographer. Augmented reality overlays computer-generated images on the child's real-world view, allowing them to scan their toy, complete with simulated scanning noises, mimicking the MRI experience.
In addition to the AR aspect, the playkit includes an age-appropriate virtual reality cardboard headset and an app that virtually walks the child through a hospital, culminating in entering the MRI scanner. The walkthrough includes interactive games to prepare the child for various aspects of the MRI journey, such as checking in, being weighed, removing magnetic objects from clothing, and staying still for the scan.
Early testing involving 13 patients and their parents/carers demonstrated positive feedback. The playkit not only helped children and their parents prepare for the MRI scan but also aided in relieving anxiety during the scan itself. Some children found that recalling aspects of the playkit during the scan helped them remain calm and still.
Older children seemed to prefer the virtual reality aspects of the kit, while younger children were more drawn to the physical play and augmented reality features. Both children and parents/carers reported feeling anxious about the unknowns associated with the MRI scan before using the playkit.
While the researchers acknowledge the need for further refinement and testing on a larger scale, they suggest that the playkit has the potential to be adapted for use in various medical scenarios, such as preparing children for surgery or other medical procedures, thereby reducing the need for general anaesthesia and improving efficiency in radiology and anaesthesia departments. This innovative use of augmented and virtual reality has the potential to revolutionise how medical procedures are approached for children, making the experience less daunting and more interactive.