Helping Children (and Parents) Prepare for an MRI

As Child Life Specialists, our job is to help educate children about upcoming procedures or diagnoses, and help them cope. The details of the job depend on what area of the hospital the child life specialist is working in. For the past couple of years in Radiology, we have been working with MRI patients to help reduce anxiety around MRI appointments. Most of our time is spent helping kids cope with the MRI anesthesia workup and IV placement, or through teaching kids to complete their MRI without sedation.

About a year ago, we learned about something called a mock MRI scanner. We thought it would be the perfect teaching tool to help teach kids to complete their MRIs without sedation. The Radiology department was willing to purchase a mock MRI scanner for us to use here at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Mock MRI Scanner
Since September, we have been utilizing the mock scanner to prepare patients for their upcoming MRI, which has been very exciting! We are one of the few children’s hospitals who have started using this device for teaching. The mock scanner looks like the real scanner, but does not require a magnetic field or take any images. It has lights and fans inside the tunnel just like the real MRI machine.

The mock scanner also simulates the loud sounds that a real MRI scanner makes so kids will know what to expect when they arrive for their actual scan. It has a bed that patients can lie on and travel into a tunnel similar to a real scanner. We also have a motion-tracking device that we place around the child’s head so we can assess their ability to lie still.

Allowing kids to practice their scan before they enter the real scanner helps them to better understand their role (to lie still), and feel more comfortable with something that is unfamiliar to them. Some children have misconceptions about the MRI that can be cleared up just by practicing. The mock scanner can also help children feel confident and may reduce their anxiety related to the scan.

Here at Nationwide Children’s, all children under the age of eight who need an MRI are scheduled to be sedated. Since we started using the mock scanner, we have had a few patients as young as 5 years of age complete their MRIs without sedation.

What to Expect if Your Child Comes for the Mock MRI Scan
If mock MRI teaching is something parents think their child may benefit from, we encourage them to talk with staff during their pre-sedation phone call so they can set up an appointment. We also encourage parents to show their child the “MRI Adventure” video at home. This video is what we use as the first step in teaching kids about having an MRI.

If a patient seems like a candidate for the mock scanner, we request that the family come 30 minutes prior to their appointment time so we can meet with them for teaching and a mock scan. We still complete the sedation workup, so if the child is unable to lie still, or is still scared of the MRI scanner, they can be sedated and have their scan completed in one visit. This has been helpful for parents who want their child to try the MRI without sedation but don’t want to reschedule and come back another day if their child is unable to lie still enough during the scan.

If a patient is able to complete the scan without sedation and, because of their condition, has to come back in 6 months for a follow-up scan, they can schedule their scan without sedation. This means that they wouldn’t have to avoid food before their appointment or come in early for a sedation work-up. Since the sedation and recovery time are eliminated, the patient’s appointment time is much shorter. This also eliminates the risk of using anesthesia. Our hope is that the MRI mock scanner will reduce the need for sedation in many MRI patients. Our data so far suggest that this is true.

It’s been exciting to meet with patients and parents to offer them this opportunity. Sometimes, even parents may be pleasantly surprised that their child is able to hold still for an MRI. We look forward to continuing to use the mock scanner to help familiarize more patients with the MRI experience and are hopeful that it will help families to feel more at ease.

Rebecca Hicks, CCLS
Rebecca is a Certified Child Life Specialist working in the Radiology department. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in 2009. Rebecca completed her Child Life Internship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and received her certification in 2011. She is currently a member of the Child Life Council.
Amy LeRoy, CCLS
Amy LeRoy is a Certified Child Life Specialist in the Radiology department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Amy completed her Child Life Internship at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. She has served as a member of the Family Centered Care team at Nationwide Children’s, to advance family centered initiatives within the hospital. Amy has also engaged as a member on the executive board of the Great Lakes Association of Child Life Professionals, and is an active Child Life Council member. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s Child Life program in 2009.

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