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Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley Tammy Stone, on a break from her job as program manager at GE Healthcare, steps into a cozy, warmly lit room at GE Healthcare’s North American headquarters in Waukesha. The sounds of birds chirping and wind rustling through trees fill the space. On the wall, a flat-screen monitor displays a series […]


Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

Tammy Stone, on a break from her job as program manager at GE Healthcare, steps into a cozy, warmly lit room at GE Healthcare’s North American headquarters in Waukesha. The sounds of birds chirping and wind rustling through trees fill the space. On the wall, a flat-screen monitor displays a series of soothing waterfall images and lush forest scenes. 

If you think Stone stepped into a spa, you’re not entirely wrong. 
GE’s SensorySuite aims to reinvent the mammography experience by bringing a spa-like environment to a clinical procedure that commonly induces fear and anxiety in patients.
That’s good news for the one out of every four women who completely avoid mammograms due to those worries, and the nearly one-third of women over age 40 who haven’t had a mammogram in at least two years, says Catherine Tabaka, chief marketing officer of detection and guidance solutions at GE Healthcare. 
Stone says she has never avoided a mammogram – whether it was done in a traditional lab setting or at the Sue Ann Thompson Mammography Suite at the GE Healthcare headquarters, which is operated by ProHealth Care Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital technicians. But she adds, “I very much felt as if I were under a microscope in my previous lab-setting experiences. Those few minutes can feel like an eternity.”
Not so with the SensorySuite, she says, where the room’s calming ambiance and changing wall images “keep you focused on the images and the sounds instead of the procedure.”
Early detection can be crucial in fighting breast cancer, but “despite that evidence, many women still elect to avoid the exam,” Tabaka says. “You have to wonder why.” 
That question prompted GE to dig into the statistics and launch the GE: For Women by Women project, inviting designers, students, patients, and, of course, women to brainstorm innovative approaches to mammography. Their conclusion: The best way to combat the fear and anxiety women experience during a mammogram lies in giving women greater control of the exam.
The SensorySuite does just that. At the outset of the exam, the patient selects the ambiance (seaside, garden or waterfall). Monitors project corresponding images and relaxing sounds while a light fragrance infuses the room.
“It plays to the mind-body connection, because pain and fear is a perception in the mind,” says Dr. Joseph Zompa, medical director for GE Healthcare. “You mitigate that by creating other sensations … pleasant sensations and experiences.”
In addition to making patients feel good, the SensorySuite may also help patients get a more thorough exam on a more regular basis.
“Part of the experience is history-taking,” Zompa says. “If the woman is very nervous, she might not be as comprehensive when talking with the technician who is taking her history. If she is relaxed, she might be more thoughtful in her responses.”
When it comes to compliance, Tabaka notes that “98 percent of women that went through a SensorySuite exam say they would return. So I think we’re on to something. We have created an experience that helps women move through the exam in a more normal way. And why should a mammography exam be any different than other preventative wellness experiences?”
So far, response to the SensorySuite from the medical field has been favorable. In addition to operating at 10 locations (including New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the aforementioned Sue Ann Thompson Mammography Suite), GE has seen 40 additional orders since the product’s launch in 2012. 
Zompa believes it’s a promising start. 
“The barriers as to why women don’t get the mammograms they should be getting are real,” Zompa says. “If you can do something that moves things toward a positive experience, then that reduces that barrier.” ■

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