With color and fun, hospital helps young patients prepare for MRIs and CTs

‘Simul Park’ at Sheba Medical Center sports bright amusement park design, guidance from educational staff, and encourages familiarity with scanning machines to help allay fears

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

'Simul Park' MRI and CT simulation room for children at Sheba Medical Center. (Courtesy of Place2Heal)
'Simul Park' MRI and CT simulation room for children at Sheba Medical Center. (Courtesy of Place2Heal)

Israel’s first MRI and CT simulation room opened at the Safra Children’s Hospital at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center this month. The room — designed specifically with children in mind — is meant to help young patients prepare physically and mentally for scans they must undergo as part of their diagnosis or treatment.

These scans can be unnerving, as they involve lying on a special bed that moves back and forth inside a tunnel-like structure. One must lie perfectly still for a long time while the machine emits loud, odd sounds. Sometimes a contrast dye must be shot into a patient’s vein before the test, creating further discomfort. Although some don’t mind the experience, many find it claustrophobic and even frightening.

The unique room at Sheba was donated by Place2Heal, an Israel-based nonprofit organization that transforms hospitals’ cancer treatment spaces to encourage patients’ sense of well-being. The room is dedicated to the memory of British immigrant to Israel Jonny Baker, who died of cancer and whose friends from the UK raised the necessary funds.

Place2Heal’s healthcare design is based on studies showing our environment has a direct impact on our mood and stress levels. The goal is for well-designed and more inviting spaces to allow patients to focus on wellness over illness.

The MRI and CT simulation room at Sheba is called Simul Park due to its colorful amusement park-themed decor.

The bed of the simulated scanner can accommodate a child or adult. At the room’s opening ceremony on September 6, a 17-year-old patient measuring 180cm (5′9″) showed that he could fit on the apparatus. He explained to those gathered how helpful the Simul Park preparation process was, saying once he was informed in advance of what was in store for him during the MRI, it was much easier for him to undergo the scan.

“A lot of thought and concern went into planning the room,” said Place2Heal founder and CEO Judy Bogen, an immigrant to Israel from the UK who is a cancer survivor.

Place2Heal founder and CEO Judy Bogen (fourth from left) with Sheba staff at the September 6, 2023 opening of the Simul Park room, named in memory of the late Jonny Baker, at Sheba Medical Center. (Courtesy of Place2Heal)

“We wanted to make it easier for kids who have to undergo complex treatment, hopefully on their way to recovery,” Bogen said.

“I had to undergo CT and MRI scans when I was already a grown woman and mother. I know how difficult it was for me as an adult, so I am sure that for kids dealing with difficult medical situations, the uncertainty and threat of illness is even greater,” she said.

Liat Sherman had the initial idea to create a room where children could prepare in advance for the experience. Sherman is a music and cognitive behavioral therapist at the Weizman Educational Center at the Safra Children’s Hospital. She is also responsible for making sure there are common understandings among medical, therapy, and educational staff so that everyone is on the same page in working with young patients to promote their physical and emotional health.

“The room’s amusement park theme was not accidental. Amusement parks are loved by all, both young and old. They are grasped as a positive experience, and help us turn unattractive instruments into something that has a positive image in our minds,” Sherman said.

“In the design we chose for the room, we wanted as much color as possible, as well as to create a fun space, that will help these children overcome the fear and anxiety they must be feeling,” Bogen added.

‘Simul Park’ MRI and CT simulation room for children at Sheba Medical Center. (Courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

The children do not just lie on the MRI and CT bed, which moves up and down, and back and forth like actual scanning machines. The educational team at the hospital’s school also developed an age-appropriate, interactive curriculum called Simul Smart to go along with the experience.

“This protocol is about giving the children knowledge, making room for emotions, and offering a positive experience that they can associate with the actual scan they are about to undergo,” Sherman explained.

The educators use several additional tools to acquaint kids with the process of an MRI or CT scan. These include a booklet of photos of the room where the scans take place, as well as facts and explanations of the scanning process. There is also a DJ turntable with the sounds of the machine that the kids can control and a video clip of the process that they can watch.

“The children become so acquainted with the sounds that the machine makes that they can then create a tune with them,” Sherman said.

The kids are also welcome to choose a playlist of songs to be played for them throughout their real scan.

Safra Children’s Hospital administrator Hagit Spiegel noted that reducing a patient’s stress before a medical test and their cooperation during the procedure are critical.

“Preparation for the test goes hand in hand with the successful performance of it,” she said.

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