The scanning Tunnel-of Doom just got a lot less scary for London's kids

For many people, the need to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is frightening enough for a number of reasons, and especially for kids who may have a hard time understanding exactly what's going on. Luckily, a new, VR-based solution from a hospital in Britain may just help alleviate anxiety for children facing a scan.

Hopefully, you never have to have an MRI. But, for many people, it's a routine procedure for diagnosing a number of real and potential health problems. Unfortunately, the scan itself can be a touch traumatic – even for adults.

Those reasons are manifold. Firstly, it involves a claustrophobia-inducing squeeze into the tube itself, and then secondly, as the huge electromagnets are switched on and off, the power surges cause the coils to let out incredibly loud groans, bangs, and screeches which resemble a war zone.

To combat this, a hospital in London is experimenting with using VR to make medical testing that bit more bearable for children.

The kids are alright

At King's College Hospital in London, England, Jonathan Ashmore, an MRI Physicist, has developed an app called My MRI at King's, which uses panoramic, 360 degree views to demonstrate to youngsters exactly what's going to happen on the day.

Working closely with the Play Specialist Team at King's College Hospital, Ashmore's app can be used at home to get the young pups used to everything that will happen on the day of the scan - from the reception and hallways of the hospital to the big moment inside the scanner, itself.

The reason for it is clear; for many kids, the procedure is enough to get them confused or scared, which subsequently makes them unable to stay motionless for long enough. And, for more serious circumstances that require an immediate scan, it can result in general anaesthetic being administered.

That is not good for the patient and not good for England's chronically underpowered healthcare service.

Ashmore decided to take action to remedy the situation. In an interview with WIRED, Ashmore explains the development of the app came about from experimenting with VR and seeing how effective it was at alleviating worry. And, although there are mock scanners in place for kids to practise in, they can cost around $15,000 and take up valuable space in a hospital.

A treatment you can immerse yourself in

So far, the app has received positive feedback and demonstrates serious potential to relieve stress and anxiety which can, in many cases, entirely negate that resource-hungry need for an anaesthetic.

Dr. Ashmore has conducted trials using Google Cardboards and smartphones, but now there are twenty dedicated VR units at the hospital, and even the letters sent out to confirm appointments now feature a link to Android's Play Store to download the app. An iOS version is currently in the works.

A version for adults is currently being developed as the potential for therapeutic VR has proved to be beneficial for helping with everything from phobias and PTSD, to pain relief and even easing the fear of death, itself.

It's really exciting to think about how the digital world can be used to help our health and wellbeing, and the potential for its use in everything from education to business to society as a whole.

Long live the King's!