Introduction - what playgrounds can teach you about MR scanners

How Doug Dietz and his team redesigned the MR scanner experience for children by putting empathy first.

If you are reading this document you have probably attended (or are attending) one of my workshops. If not, I hope the content is helpful for you – I have tried to make it useful without needing any additional context. If you have any questions, or would like me to deliver this workshop for you or your organisation, please feel free to contact me.

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The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones - John Maynard Keynes

Doug Dietz, an industrial designer, designed MR scanners for GE Healthcare. He spent 2 years on a new scanner and was filled with joy when he saw it in place at a local hospital.

As he walked down the corridor out to his car he saw a family walking towards him. The father crouched down to speak to his young daughter who was in tears. Doug heard the father saying "Remember, we've talked about this. You can be brave." – the words did little to alleviate the distress.

Observing this interaction left Doug with a number of questions; why was the thought of going through the scanner he designed causing so much emotional pain? Is this experience mirrored for other young people? How often does this happen? How could they have missed this?

The focus of desiging an MR scanner is that it delivers effective scans that allow for more accurate diagnoses. Once this goal is met, is the work done? Does the user experience matter when considering this objective?

Doug discovered that for this specific specialism, Nuclear Medicine, 80% of young people required sedation in order to undergo an MR scan. He wondered, "how could I possibly have missed that the experience would be so distressing?".

He vowed to improve it and chose to observe young people in environments they are comfortable in and to speak to experts that interact with children to help him on his quest. Through his observations he discovered that if you give children two chairs and a blanket, they'll build a fort. After speaking with the curator of a children's museum and numerous parents as well as watching children at play, he understood the power of story to young people.

This helped him redesign the scanning experience. Using decals he transformed the scanners into space ships and pirate ships. He changed the lighting in the rooms the scanners were housed in and gave the technicians a script to read. Now, when the children went through the scanner they were told, "If you look closely you'll see a shoal of fish as they pass overhead".

Developing empathy for his users empowered Doug to understand that it was not enough to design an effective MR scanner, he needed to deliver an experience that met their needs too. His new scanners, the Adventure Series, reduced the need for sedation to under 1% for scans within this specialism, Nuclear Medicine.

In this workshop you'll follow a three-step process; observe, talk, act; to learn a number of techniques for seeing the world through your users' eyes. This deeper understanding will empower you to deliver experiences that delight whilst aiding you to meet your outcomes more effectively.

To get the most out of this workshop, complete all of the exercises. The exercises and activities are more valuable than the stories and text.


Doug Dietz talks about transforming healthcare for children and their families by putting empathy first:

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