Virtual Reality for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Improving Patient MRI Outcomes With an Immersive Virtual Reality Preparation Experience


BC Children’s Hospital

The Digital Lab

Type of work

Virtual Reality

Preparing Children for MRI Scans is Essential

MRI scans help diagnose many medical conditions, and while they aren’t painful they can be stressful because of the tight space and unfamiliar noises. 50% of pediatric patients report high stress and anxiety prior to MRI scans which can cause movement and reduce imaging quality. While some patients require sedation for an MRI, this increases the risk, and often involves the patient waiting extended periods for a sedated MRI. Currently, BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) utilizes Certified Child Life Specialists and a replica MRI machine for MRI preparation, but these resources are not easily accessible. The Digital Lab has recognized that virtual reality could be used to immerse children in a digital MRI environment to prepare them for an MRI.

Research & Design

Designing an Immersive MRI Preparation Application

The Digital Lab designed the VR-MRI mobile application to prepare children for MRI scans. This application was created by utilizing both a remote control robot, and a GoPro Fusion 360 degree camera along with assets from Unity. This simulation exposes patients to all of the steps of the MRI scan process as well as the MRI machine in order to reduce their anxiety and stress.

In the immersive experience patients are introduced to the steps of an MRI scan and are guided to watch another person safely complete an MRI in order to increase their knowledge of the MRI process. This product has excellent accessibility as the VR simulation and game can be used on the patient or caregiver’s mobile phone with the use of a low-cost VR headset. This allows users to utilize VR-MRI at the hospital, or in their own home increasing accessibility.

After developing the product, its efficacy was assessed by the Digital Lab with a randomized controlled trial to compare the VR experience to other MRI preparations including seeing a CCLs and using a practice machine to reduce movement and anxiety. Furthermore, the Digital Lab examined the feasibility of implementing VR-MRI on a wider scale.

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MRI Preparation Utilizing Virtual Reality is Effective

The evaluation of the VR-MRI application by randomized controlled trial highlighted many promising outcomes for future deployment:

  • VR-MRI provided similar MRI success rates to in-person preparation
  • Children who utilized VR-MRI felt it was both fun and effective for MRI preparation
  • Caregivers appreciated being able to observe the VR content on a tablet at the same time as their children

While further research needs to be conducted to confirm the efficacy of VR-MRI as an alternative to a non-sedated MRI, this study suggests that it could be a great alternative to in-person programs like preparing with a CCLS due to their limited capacity.