For a child there’s nothing more frightening than the unknown, and getting into a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine is a big unknown. That’s why King’s College Hospital London is turning to VR technology to help calm children who are scheduled to have an MRI.

To help children understand exactly what they can expect upon arriving for their appointment, King’s College Hospital has a created a 360° video of what can be expected on the day. It was produced by MRI physicist Jonathan Ashmore and technologist Jerome Di Pietro, and works on a variety of VR viewers – including Google’s Daydream, Samsung’s Galaxy VR and the affordable Google Cardboard headset.

“I was given a 360° camera as a present, and I wanted to use it to help anxious children I see come into the hospital. As an MRI Physicist, putting the camera inside the scanner seemed like the most logical place to start,” notes Jonathan.

To experience the video, users simply need to download the ‘My MRI at King’s’ app on their Android smartphones. It has been confirmed for iOS devices in the future, although that is still being worked on.

Speaking of the benefits of the app, Dr Darshan Das, consultant paediatrician in Paediatric Neurology at King’s, adds: “So far the app has had some really positive feedback and I can see that it has the potential to significantly relieve anxiety and prevent the need for children to undergo an anaesthetic in many cases.”

The VR technology allows children to feel as though they are inside an MRI scanner and experience what it will be like on the day. Children have the opportunity to get accustomed to the loud tapping noises that happen during the scan (this is the electric current in the scanner coils being turned on and off), as well as learning that they need to keep still for the duration of the scan. For some children, having an MRI can be a frightening experience and some require a general anaesthetic to get through the scan.

10 year old Matthew Down has to have annual MRI scans after having urgent brain surgery for triventricular hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid on the brain – in September 2014. He was asked to trial the app and to give his feedback. Matthew notes: “I was really worried before my first scan because I didn’t know what to expect, even though my dad explained I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. I think that the app is really helpful as it shows you what to expect and it really feels like you are inside the machine.”

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