03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Hypnosis and Other Amenities Before Imaging Exams - Unlocking the Key to Relaxing

A recent study from Harvard University reported that teaching advanced communication skills and self-hypnotic relaxation techniques to MRI staff members can help them deal more effectively with patients and significantly increase the number of successful scans, even among patients with claustrophobia.

According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, an average of 2.3% of patients cannot complete an MRI scan for a variety of reasons, including claustrophobia, the noise from the MRI system or because they are uncomfortable or in pain. At Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) Division of MR we do everything possible to reduce patient discomfort. Like many other institutions, we are focused on reducing the number of incomplete exams. However, we will not sacrifice acquiring diagnostic quality images. Our staff are highly trained to deal with patient stress and fear of the MRI examinations and are in constant communication with the patients during the exam. Patients are also offered their choice of music to help mask the loud sound produced by the machine.

Let's face it -- any imaging studies can be stressful and uncomfortable, but we can improve the experience by helping patients navigate an imaging study from pre-registration, to the onsite visit, to walking out of the door and receiving a diagnosis. Imaging centers that are dedicated to your condition, e.g.,. orthopaedics, cardiology, etc, can help establish a less stressful environment by improved efficiency and staff confidence by a better understanding of the patients' concern(s).

For the past few years, our department instituted a new patient program that has been very well received. We developed a relationship with the Swedish Institute to give its students the opportunity to rack up treatment hours (needed to get their licenses) while keeping our patients content, entertained and relaxed while they wait for their x-rays, examinations/procedures. Teams of massage therapists visit our department and give our patients ten-minute pre- or post-exam massages. Patients do not mind the occasional waiting time if they can enjoy the attention, the deep breathing and the massage.

An imaging center also can offer over-the-phone or online registration so that upon arrival patients can swiftly go from the waiting area to the examination/imaging room. Hot and cold beverages in the waiting area and reading material including weekly magazines, newspapers, as well as informational material on the various imaging examinations offer help to relieve anxiety. Crossword puzzles and Suduko are also helpful especially if the examination requires a prolonged wait.

Studies have shown that a relaxed patient helps to achieve success in imaging; a winning experience for both patients and doctors. Think "simplicity" and "utility" in planning and everyone involved benefits.