Going inside a large medical scanner can be scary, especially when you’re a child. But what if children could perform a pretend scan themselves to learn what will happen beforehand?
The Kitten Scanner, the newest addition to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, is a miniature play-version of a computer-aided tomography (CAT) scanner, designed to help ease the anxiety CAT and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can cause. This special scanner is one of only three in the entire Northeast.
Child Life Specialists help pediatric patients choose an elephant, chicken, alligator or robot, place it on the scanner bed, and slide the bed into the machine. The computer reads a small chip inside the figure and projects an animated video on a wall-mounted screen to give the child a doctor’s eye view of what’s inside.
“This scanner starts the process of getting kids to understand why they’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Anthony Indelicato, Associate Director of Radiology, Stony Brook Medicine. “It also provides a good springboard for medical staff and the children to talk about what to expect and what we’d like them to do during the scan.”
Although the Kitten Scanner may act like a fun toy, it serves a serious purpose: helping children cope with anxiety related to the scanner. Sitting still for even a few minutes can be difficult for little ones, therefore MRI scans, which sometimes take up to two hours, can be overwhelming.
“A large part of the test is the fear of the unknown,” said Joan Alpers, Director of Child Life Services, Stony Brook Children’s. “Young patients feel and do much better when they know what to expect; playing make-believe helps the reality of the procedure become a little less scary.”
The benefits are clinical as well as emotional. Calmer patients are more cooperative, and that results in better images, fewer repeat scans and lower delivered radiation. These patients are also less likely to need sedation, sparing them six to eight hours of recovery time.