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Virtual Reality Game Improves Patient Stillness for MRI


Three-level game helps patients overcome fears of the scan and learn how to remain as motionless as possible during imaging.

Going through an MRI can be tough for some patients. Being in a small space and having to remain as still as possible can create fear and panic. And these problems can have a snowball effect – movement leads to blurry images that require repeated scans, prompting more discomfort.

“MRIs are frightening for everyone,” said Matthew David Hall, M.D., lead pediatric radiation oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute. “Even when my patients overcome the fear, they have no way to practice being still, so that the scans, or radiation treatments, can be as short and accurate as possible.”

Hall knew there had to be a way to alleviate those fears and help patients stay relatively motionless. To achieve that goal, his clinical team paired up with Reimagine Well, a company dedicated to improving the patient experience during the treatment process.

What they developed is a pre-MRI virtual reality (VR) game, call the MRI Stillness Game, that uses patient compliance as a way to override the uncomfortable stimuli that an MRI exam presents. Using a VR headset that detects movement, the team developed a three-level game that escalates from black-and-white to color. The game is timed to last as long as the MRI exam. Patients are tasked to hold the crosshairs at the center of a circle, increasing their score the longer they stay still.

Credit: Reimagine Well

Credit: Reimagine Well

Throughout the game, patients focus the crosshairs to colorize a rainforest, a hot air balloon scene, and a coral reef. Each level is longer and harder, and, as they play, the simulated MRI noises morph into part of the natural, surrounding environment, such as bird chirps or dolphin clicks. After each round, patients receive a score card on their performance.

Credit: Reimagine Well

Credit: Reimagine Well

The goal, the team said, is to help familiarize patients with the stillness requirement for an MRI exam with the hope that their scores will predict with how well they will successfully complete a scan without moving.

“Often virtual reality headsets are used in hospitals for distraction or entertainment purposes only. With this application, the patient is first acclimated to the sights and sounds of the MRI,” said Leonard Sender, M.D., co-founder of Reimagine Well. “We believe clinicians will be able to correlate the scores in the game to the accuracy of the imaging and the duration of the patient MRI sessions. Our hope is that it will become an important predictive tool, shortening the duration of procedures and getting more utilization out of their MRI suites.”

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