Virtual reality helps children prepare for MRI scan

Virtual reality (VR) technology is being used at King’s College Hospital to prepare children for a scan in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine.

A new app developed by MRI physicist Jonathan Ashmore, who is based at the hospital, and learning technologist Jerome Di Pietro, of King’s College London, uses panoramic 360-degree videos to allow children to experience what an MRI scan involves before they undergo the real thing.

My MRI at King’s takes children all the way through the events that will happen on the day, from arriving at the hospital to entering the scanner, and allows children to feel as though they are inside an MRI scanner. They can 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 learn that they need to keep still for the duration of the scan.

Ten-year-old Matthew Down, who has to have annual MRI scans, was asked to trial the app and to give his feedback. He said: “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.”

According to the King’s College Hospital, having an MRI can sometimes be a frightening experience and some children need a general anaesthetic to get through the scan.

Discussing the benefits of the app, Dr Darshan Das, consultant paediatrician in Paediatric Neurology at King’s, said: “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 free app is available for Android and iOS and the videos can be viewed on a VR headset or explored on a phone or tablet.

Sign up to our newsletter

Meet our experts