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A Scanner Not So Darkly
A new generation of GE scanners creates an adventurous experience for the younger generation. By Sara Rae Lancaster

Photo by Doug Dietz/GE Healthcare

Four and a half years ago, a father stood in a hospital hallway and told his young daughter to be strong. Right after he had spoken the words, tears welled in the corners of her eyes, soon bursting into a complete meltdown. There would be no MRI scan that day.

Doug Dietz, of Waukesha-based GE Healthcare, was at the hospital that day to watch his latest project – a state-of-the-art MRI scanner – in action. The new scanner looked shiny and beautiful and utilized cutting-edge technology. Dietz was pleased. The hospital was pleased. The family was not. “I see this family unable to get their scan, and I felt like I had failed at my job,” says Dietz, who has designed GE products for 24 years.

In that moment, Dietz realized his job wasn’t just designing slick, high-tech medical equipment – despite degrees in industrial design. “I’d missed the big picture,” he says. “It took that family to snap me to. My job is to design the experience, not just the thing.”

The current experience with “the thing” was bleak. Dietz says about 80 percent of children between 3 and 8 years old need to be sedated to get scans. So he returned to the office determined to change that statistic. To gain a more holistic view, Dietz gathered childhood learning experts from Milwaukee’s Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, child life specialists from children’s hospitals, and kids. “We put in all this different input from the design side, museum side, hospital side, from the kids,” Dietz says. “It was like we put it all in a blender, hit puree and – brrr – Adventure Series.”

On the inside, the GE Adventure Series CT and MRI scanners are the same state-of-the-art equipment. On the outside, the machines – as well as the entire MRI room – reflect every right-brain neuron Dietz and his team fired into the project. Instead of getting a scary scan, children sail a pirate ship or camp in the woods.

And much of the inspiration for the different themes came from children. During one brainstorming session, a boy told Dietz the machines were too noisy. And Dietz decided to embrace the noise. The result was Space Adventure. The room becomes the space station; the machine the spaceship. From a young patient’s perspective, that loud noise is just the thrusters launching the spaceship through the atmosphere.

Cozy Camp, a woodland adventure, also features kid-inspired elements. “We decided to make the machine a tent, but a kid suggested the table they lay on be a sleeping bag,” Dietz says. “That’s brilliant!”

Purple walls and special lighting give the room a twilight glow. The air smells of pine. Even the tech’s window, which looks like a camper, becomes part of the story. Sometimes, a child will ask the technician to go into the tent, too. The technician says the tent is for children and the camper is for the technicians. And the kids immediately get it. “That’s all they need – a little bit of story and their imagination takes over,” Dietz says.

And the stories seem to be making a difference. Hospitals with the designs report a 7 percent uptick in scans taken. For Dietz, the individual stories can be more revealing. Like the 6-year-old girl who endured a 40-minute PET/CT scan, independently, thanks to the safe setting Cozy Camp created.

As Dietz retells the story, his voice catches with emotion. “She’d packed her backpack with her teddy bear and stuff just like she saw her older sister do when she went to camp,” he says.

When it was time for the scan, she got up with her backpack and started to walk toward the scanner by herself. She turned. “I’m going to camp by myself, Mom.” 

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