UK hospital uses VR to reassure children before MRI scans

'My MRI' uses 360-degree video to take you through a hospital scan.

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AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Entering a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine can be a nerve-wracking experience. You're trapped in a tight space and have to lie perfectly still as loud noises -- produced by the current in the scanner coils -- pepper your eardrums. To help patients, and in particular children, the Kings College Hospital in London has turned to VR. MRI physicist Jonathan Ashmore and technologist Jerome Di Pietro have produced an app that contains a 360-degree video. Slip on a Google Cardboard and you'll see what happens on the day, from arrival to stepping inside the scanner.

"I was given a 360-degree camera as a present," Ashmore explains, "and I wanted to use it to help anxious children I see come into the hospital." Offering a sneak peek of the day can put young patients at ease. Matthew Down, a 10-year-old who has to have annual MRI scans, recalls how he was "really worried" before his first scan. "I didn't know what to expect. Even though my dad explained, I couldn't imagine what it would be like." Trialling the app, he said it could be "really helpful" for first-timers.

The app is free to download, and will soon be available on iOS too. The videos are simple, but they could have a huge impact on the UK health system. If children are more comfortable, they're less likely to require a general anaesthetic. The whole process should be quicker too, making the NHS a more efficient operation -- both in terms of money and time. For now "My MRI" is just a trial, with a link to the app included in select appointment letters. Ashmore hopes it will be expanded in the future, however, so that VR headsets are readily available in waiting rooms.

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