Getting the high-tech treatment

The Ambient Experience suite helps reduce patients' anxiety and minimize discomfort

July 14, 2010
The Ambient Experience suite at UC Irvine's Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is designed to reduce anxiety and minimize discomfort for patients undergoing CT scanning.

UC Irvine Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has installed an innovative imaging suite that gives patients control over their environment and reduces their anxiety during lengthy diagnostic scans.

Before a patient can receive treatment, a radiation oncologist must obtain a highly detailed computerized tomography (CT) scan of the tumor and surrounding tissue in three dimensions. Many cancers require repeated imaging to ensure that the treatment is reaching the tumor and leaving healthy tissue undamaged.

CT scanning requires that the subject lie perfectly still on a hard table for as long as 40 minutes. This can be unpleasant for patients who are claustrophobic, anxious or in pain. "When we began planning to replace our CT scanner, we wanted to find a way to ease the experience," says Edward Orlowski, chief radiation therapist at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

What they found is the Ambient Experience CT suite, developed by Philips Healthcare. The glaring lights are gone and the daunting medical equipment is hidden. The room's curved white walls are softly lit along the ceiling, and the lack of hard edges and corners may diminish claustrophobia.

Patients control the lighting and can choose from numerous shades of blue, pink, red, yellow, etc. Images projected onto the CT suite's ceiling and walls include: a South American beach scene in which a coconut drops from a palm tree while clouds drift past; a sun-washed African sky that transforms into twilight, complete with twinkling stars and darting fireflies; and the Australian outback, with the occasional kangaroo hopping by.

Minimizing discomfort and reducing anxiety are no small concerns. Orlowski says some patients must be rescanned because they couldn't hold still long enough to complete the imaging, while others have to be sedated prior to scanning. "The Ambient Experience CT suite offers patients, particularly children, some control in a situation where they typically have none," he says.

The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, is among the first in the country to install the Ambient Experience CT suite for patients.



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