Recently finished getting an MRI for what I think is a herniated disk (hopefully the MRI will pinpoint the problem). It was a terrible experience. Here’s how it went. After signing in, I was led outside of the hospital building to a separate tiny building (if you can call it that) which contained the device. Yup. This was a terrible start. It made me feel like I was being led to something bad. And I was. Once inside the bare bones room, I had to disrobe in an area separated by a curtain which didn’t feel very private. But here is where it gets really craptastic. I’ve never had an MRI before and the operator gave me very little direction other than to stay still. So when I was loaded in the machine—I went in with my eyes wide open.
Guess what happened? I immediately felt like I was being loaded into a tiny coffin. That’s how cramped the space is. I calmly asked to be removed—so I could better prepare myself. I took a deep breath and went in eyes closed which helped a great deal. Next came 25 minutes of enduring the most loud, unpleasant sounds you will ever hear (and remember) along with a constant effort of putting my mind in a happy place, so as to not think about the “coffin” experience that surrounded me. If there are any healthcare organizations reading this blog, here are a few suggestions to make the MRI experience less terrible.
Plan the first impression down to a every last detail.
The small trip from the waiting room to the MRI lab should feel welcoming, bright and cheerful. You shouldn’t feel like you are being led to a bad experience. Colors, artwork, plants, natural lighting and maybe even things like waterfalls can help.
Make the MRI equipment room as pleasant as possible.
Windows would be great if possible. When you walk into the room, it would be wonderful to have some type of reception area—seeing a friendly face first goes a long way. If you could be led to a private room (even a small one) this would also help get things started off right.
Have the operator slowly prepare you.
The initial question should be “is this your first time getting an MRI”? If the answer is yes, the operator should be trained to gingerly walk you through what to expect. Preparation here is key. I wasn’t prepared at all and as a result—was immediately overwhelmed. If the operator simply said “close your eyes and slow your breathing” this would have been a huge help.
Provide “sensory aides”
Standard practice for an MRI is to issue earplugs. Yes, the noises are that loud and unpleasant. Now, here’s where it could get interesting. What about your sense of smell? Studies have shown how smell is a powerful sense which triggers memories (good and bad). And one of the positives that I noticed was that the ventilation system was very good. So what if you could pick a scented MRI experience? What if you could choose from smells like Vanilla, Evergreen, Cinnamon or even Chocolate? I would have picked Vanilla—that’s a soothing smell for me. In addition, why not provide blindfolds that can either be cool or warm to the touch? Some people have preferences for either sensation and find it relaxing. The sensation of a “warm compress” on my face may have helped as well.
My big take away is that it didn’t have to be this bad. I’m guessing that there are MRI centers which are much better equipped. The Philips projection solution mentioned in my previous post seems like a great idea, but based I what I experienced—there are still opportunities to innovate here.