Grade 7 | Making the Hospital experience Less Scary for Kids

Google Image Search for "Kid Friendly CAT Scan". Some images subject to Copyright.
Google Image Search for “Kid Friendly CAT Scan.” Some images subject to Copyright.

“Empathy.” We toss the word around a lot, but what does it really mean? The Oxford dictionary definition is: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Empathy is the foundation of design, it’s how truly great ideas are born – the ones that change lives for the better, at scale.

We’re thrilled to announce an exciting project involving NCMS and the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, led by Bon Ku, MD, MPP, Director of the Design Track of Jefferson’s “College within a College” program, and the IDeA: Innovation & Design Application program as well. Our seventh grade students will take part in a groundbreaking collaborative exploration of empathy in our medical delivery system. Our students will work directly with medical students at the college with Bon’s guidance, considering this question: how might we make the hospital experience less scary for kids?

But wait. Hasn’t this been done before? Yes, in a few places. In fact, back in 2013, a man by the name of Doug Dietz, a longtime designer of high-tech medical systems at GE Healthcare, came up with an idea for making MRI machines more kid-friendly:

By thinking holistically about how children experienced and interacted with the technology, Doug helped transform the MRI suite into a kid’s adventure story, with the patient in a starring role. Making no changes to the complex technology inside the scanner, Doug and his ad hoc team applied colorful decals to the outside of the machine and to every surface in the room, covering the floor, ceilings, walls, and all of the equipment. They also created a script for machine operators so they could lead their young patients through the adventure.

Click here for the full story. In the image above, CAT scanners (and even entire rooms) have been redecorated with colorful themes to make kids more comfortable. But it goes way beyond decorations and decals; the entire experience is changed, putting the user – in this case, the child – at the center, transforming it from a potentially terrifying process to something much less so – even, some say – outright fun.

Might our kids be able to come up with a similar game-changing idea?

Why not?

What’s at stake? A greater level of empathy, and, for our kids at least, a practical application of design thinking that, we hope, will be relevant to their lives. We’re discussing the possibility of students presenting the very best ideas directly to the Jefferson Hospital management team. How cool would that be?

As the Manifesto reminds us, the work must be: “mindful exploration … purposeful engagement … authentic experiences.” Check, check, and check.

I’ll close with this video, which, I’ll warn, may trigger strong emotions in some people, particularly those who have a loved one who is severely ill or that has recently passed. It’s incredibly powerful. And it’s the best presentation I’ve ever seen about the role empathy can (and in my view at least, should) play in our daily lives.

Viewer discretion advised.
Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, by Cleveland Clinic.

More to come. Stay tuned…