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Picture Perfect MRIs and Imaging Experiences for Kids

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Loud, unfamiliar banging sounds. Feeling stuck in a dark, scary looking tube. Worry that someone in a white coat might find something that could cause more pain.

You can understand why an MRI might be a frightening experience for a young child.

And that’s why the Child Life team at Florida Hospital for Children developed the Picture Perfect program — to support children who have been scheduled for an MRI through Florida Hospital for Children with an opportunity to feel better prepared, become more familiar and comfortable with the MRI process, and even complete the MRI without general anesthesia or sedation.

Laura Felson, Certified Child Life Specialist at Florida Hospital for Children, shares how the Picture Perfect program helps to put picture-perfect smiles back on children’s faces, while also helping to ensure that quality images are obtained to best support their care.

Child life specialists help children to normalize the hospital experience.

“As a child life specialist, I help children cope with the hospital setting. We do this through facilitating play opportunities, normalizing the hospital environment, providing developmentally appropriate education, teaching coping strategies, and using distraction techniques during procedures,” explains Felson.

“The Picture Perfect program was started by one of our child life specialists to enhance our ability to support children by creating more positive MRI experiences for them within Florida Hospital for Children,” she continues.

The Picture Perfect Program helps children to master the MRI experience.

“Children who are scheduled for an MRI within Florida Hospital for Children have the opportunity to participate in the Picture Perfect program at no cost,” says Felson.

The ideal candidate for the Picture Perfect program is between the ages of five and 12 years old, and can hold still for a minimum of 30 minutes without involuntary movements, as in uncontrollable twitches or tics. By using guided imagery, we can practice holding completely still like a statue, mannequin or robot.

She explains that by participating in the program, children can come into the imaging center before their scheduled MRI, where they meet with Felson to:

  • Learn about what the MRI is
  • See what the MRI machine looks like
  • Hear what it sounds like
  • Practice what it feels like by crawling in the “play” MRI tunnel and practice laying on a real head coil (if that applies)
  • Talk through their feelings and ask any questions while they play
  • Learn coping strategies to use during their actual MRI scan
  • Play through the IV process (if that applies) and discuss pain management techniques
  • Play “doctor” with a doll to demonstrate what they are learning
  • Walk through the entire MRI process and play a prep game on a tablet
  • Learn about different comfort items that they can bring from home (like a stuffed animal or blanket) and can have with them during their scheduled MRI
  • Choose a movie to watch in the video goggles during their scheduled MRI, or have the option to bring a movie with them
  • Understand that they can have their parent in the MRI room with them for coaching and support

“With developmentally appropriate education, play opportunities, normalization and psychosocial coaching, our goal is to help each child cope with their MRI, feel like they have mastery to be successful with the MRI without anesthesia (when possible), and be more familiar with the MRI process from start to finish,” explains Felson.

The Picture Perfect program has positively helped kids and imaging centers.

“After children go through the Picture Perfect process, they are often less anxious and fearful, which also helps to improve the quality of their imaging results because if children are very stressed or anxious during their MRI it can lead to having to stop the test or repeat images, which can extend their whole MRI experience,” Felson adds.

And even if parents are not able to bring their child in to the imaging center or hospital to do the formal Picture Perfect program with Felson, she can still help them by sharing some information and talking points through a phone call or email.

“I just spoke to a parent whose schedule made it a challenge to participate in person, but she thought it was a wonderful idea, so I emailed her information, educational resources, and tips for her to review with her child before their scheduled MRI,” notes Felson.

A Picture Perfect example.

Felson accounts:

“Recently, I had a 10-year old girl come to see me with her mom. She had several prior surgeries and appeared very nervous and withdrawn. She expressed she did not know if she could be still and she was afraid of what the MRI would sound like.”

“As we went through the play and education opportunities, showed her pictures, listened to the sounds, practiced in the MRI tunnel and IV preparation, and provided positive coping mechanisms, her confidence shifted. She knew that she would be successful in having her MRI without sedation by the end of our session.”

“Most people, and especially children, are more comfortable knowing what to expect in a medical setting with little to no surprises, and that’s what we do as Certified Child Life Specialists – we seek to create a more comfortable and positive experience while normalizing the hospital environment for kids,” Felson advises.

Florida Hospital for Children is expanding its vision for a Picture Perfect future.

Felson explains that the Picture Perfect program has had great results with preparing children for an MRI and support from parents, children and hospital and imaging staff, making it a model for future programs within other imaging services at Florida Hospital for Children.

“With the success we have seen with our MRI Picture Perfect program, Florida Hospital for Children’s Imaging department has recently launched similar programs for our pediatric patients scheduled for VCUG (voiding cystourethrogram) or BE (barium enema) radiology tests.  These programs are called the VCUG/BE Patient Ready Program,” says Felson. The goals of both programs are similar to the Picture Perfect as they help to reduce the anxiety of patients and families through developmentally appropriate play and preparation.

Felson concludes, “My passion is working with children and families to improve their hospital experiences and procedures — the Picture Perfect program is just one example of how the Child Life Department is always looking for more ways to promote positive medical moments for kids and families throughout the Florida Hospital for Children network.”

Learn more about the Picture Perfect program at Florida Hospital for Children.