(From my Chinese Column, as usual, presented in its original Mandarin and English. Special thanks go to my colleague Elyssa He for what I am sure was a complicate translation.)
A couple of months ago I had a persistent cough and had to go into hospital for an MRI to have my lungs examined. I am 49 years old and pride myself on being emotionally resilient, but the second I entered the MRI tunnel, I became a total child, claustrophobia overcoming me and rendering me in a complete state of panic. I made such a fuss the doctor had to stop the process. After three attempts, the nurse gave up and I was sent, at massive personal expense, to an open MRI in another part of town.
Bob Schwartz is the General Manager of Global Design at GE Healthcare. Schwartz tells a story of a similar epiphany that has driven their design philosophy and revolutionized their business at the same time.
As I witnessed first hand, for adults, getting an MRI can be an incredibly intimidating experience. For children, it can be downright scary - with many having to be sedated before they receive diagnostic imaging. Schwartz and his team watched children and their parents go into intense panic, taking longer time for nurses and radiologists to administer treatment, not to mention the fact that many required potentially dangerous sedation to enter the closed MRI tunnel. They decided to reframe the challenge, to look at this constraint as an opportunity: to see if, metaphorically, they could turn lemons into lemonade.
To inspire themselves, the team looked at children’s museums, theme park and playgrounds, and talked to daycare and childhood development experts to understand the needs and perspectives of young patients.
“We did simple things that get overlooked,” says Schwartz. “I mean, some of the most effective insights we got came from kneeling down and looking at rooms from the height of a child.”
He pushed his team to think in terms of what kids see and how they relate to the world.
“Our first design session was actually in a daycare,” he said. “We knew we had to come at this from a different perspective.”
Kathleen Kapsin, director of the Pediatric Radiology Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, agrees: “All of our equipment is very high-tech,” she says. “We can get you great images, but we can’t get them if the child isn’t lying still and feeling well enough to go through the scan.”
The final solution is best described on GE’s website:
“Aaaarrrr ye ready?” the hospital technologist growls, handing the patient a black-felt pirate hat. “Yer pirate ship awaits, Cap’n.”
The child draws the hat to his head. Skull-and-crossbones sneer through the waiting room, as if proclaiming, “I’m not just a patient. I’m a pirate.” The 7-year-old’s mother holds his hand as they walk to the CT (Computed Tomography) room. She assures him that he’s going to have a great adventure. They’ve come to the Children’s Hospital—to have his sinus cavities scanned.
As the mini-swashbuckler nears the room, a set of brown planks extend into the hallway, leading to his ship. Soon there is crisp blue water beneath and the subtle smell of coconut in the air.
“Welcome to Pirate Island,” a nurse says, as the boy enters the room.
On this day, 7-year old Duncan Auer is a pirate. Duncan’s boat is actually a specially decorated CT machine. The exam bed has been made to look like a hull. The CT tube: a wooden steering wheel. The water and planks below: brown and blue decals on the floor. The coconut smell: an aromatherapy scent—piña colada—churning from a black vaporizer in the corner.
There are seven other rooms besides Pirate Island, whose themes include a jungle, a campground and an underwater fantasy. They are part of a pilot GE Healthcare program called the GE Adventure Series™, developed in partnership with Children’s Hospital, to help reduce stress in children undergoing imaging scans.
“Children are very cooperative,” says Duncan’s mother, Liz Auer, who works as a preschool teacher. “If you can use your imagination and encourage kids to use theirs, you can make any experience into something that can be fun or, at the very least, relaxing and not stressful,” she says.
The results speak for themselves: an article published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, in 2008, describes in detail the dramatic drop in the need for use of sedation after the room was decorated.”
Why am I telling you this? I’ve said several times in this column that design is the overlap between two things – a mindset and a skillset. The mindset is one of optimism, of believing in the possibility of change, of turning problems on their head and looking for solutions. Not seeing lemons, but the ingredients of lemonade.
The skillset is taking these ideas and making them tangible, to help connect to people in ways that matter – taking technology that scares people and making it into an adventure, of creating a powerful and delightful experience when before there was only a disjointed set of potential negative outcomes. In GE’s case, turning the act of looking inside your body into an act of looking inside your mind to something powerful, human and exciting.
To making lemonade.
“海盗岛”旁边还有其他7个检查室，主题包括热带丛林、露营地和海底幻想。这些都隶属于通用电气“GE Adventure Series™”这个医疗试点项目，这个项目是与儿童医院共同开发，旨在帮助减缓儿童接受成像扫描时的压力。