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Meet Buddy the Bear, MRI diplomat

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders News, October 8, 2007

If nothing else, last week's Healthcare Facilities Symposium--an annual conference held here in Chicago--speaks to the breadth of the industry. This event, which assembles speakers from the design, construction and operations side of the industry, has one of the more diverse vendor halls you will see.

Lots of nuts and bolts stuff here, including flooring, paneling, lighting, furniture, sinks, and signage. At the other extremes are steel beam manufacturers to support all that stuff, and fine artists to decorate the drywall. And of course architectural firms, the creative brains who pull it all together. A central theme is how the modern hospital looks very little like its predecessors.

So little, in fact, that some of them might be confused for a resort or hotel.Addressing that point, presenter Sally Grady, director of imaging services at Florida Hospital Celebration Heath, noted how wayward tourists in Orlando sometimes arrive there, assuming it is a hotel and ask about accommodations.

The hospital, part of the Adventist network, does generate quite a bit of business from tourists, who show up at its ED with the various injuries associated with family fun in mega water parks and Disney World. It's a hotly competitive market in Florida for imaging services. To lure patients and maintain their loyalty, Celebration has worked to make its imaging suites as patient friendly as possible.

"People are afraid of the equipment, and afraid of what we might find," Grady said. The hospital has dubbed its service area as "Seaside Imaging". A beach theme prevails, down to the flip-flops and surfer shorts that the hospital issues in lieu of those embarrassing green aprons (or are they jackets?). Some patients like the shorts so much, they steal them.

In addition, patients linger on Adirondack chairs and sip their CT barium solutions through colorful cups with umbrellas on them. I guess they imagine they are enjoying a Mai-Tai. But Seaside Imaging doesn't stop there.

The scanning units themselves are decorated to look like large sand castles--much to the consternation of vendor engineers who have to dismantle the Styrofoam walls to work on the units. A patient entering the "CT Scan Castle" can easily imagine they are entering some delightful wonderland, rather than a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel of terror.

According to Grady, Seaside Imaging has been a hit with both adults and kids. For the youngsters, the hospital has created its own educational videos to allay their fears before undergoing imaging. The characters, Max and Buddy the Bear, explain the procedures in a light-hearted way. A scene in which Buddy the Bear belches after drinking his pre-scan cocktail is a hit with youthful viewers, Grady noted.

It certainly elicited a hearty laugh from many of the adults attending Grady's talk--and this was before the wine reception.Celebration's approach underscores the value of the warm-fuzzies in the patient experience. The warm, plush environment yields cold, hard cash.

After redecorating the imaging suite, Celebration has reduced its sedation rate of adult patients and seen its cancellations drop by half. Many of the cancellations were the result of the good old-fashioned fear factor, as people panic before, or during, a scan and call it off. Technology can work wonders, no doubt. But you need artists, interior designers, imaginative architects and innovative hospital leaders to set the stage for its acceptance by patients.


Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at gbaldwin@healthleadersmedia.com.