Paul Allen Makes Donation to Improve Patient Experience


A flat screen is secured to the ceiling above the head of the PET/CT machine so patients can view beautiful images.

So much of medical treatment is about passing the time and holding still. But doing both of those things just got a lot more pleasant for diagnostic imaging patients at Virginia Mason thanks to Seattle philanthropist Paul Allen. Inspired by his own experience as an imaging patient, Allen recently awarded Virginia Mason with a gift to fund the installation of audio visual equipment – including flat screen TVs and a sound system – to improve the time spent in treatment for patients undergoing PET/CT scans.

Prepping for a PET scan can be challenging. The scan uses nuclear imaging to produce 3-D color images of processes in the body, which requires that radioactive medicine, called a radiotracer, be injected up to 60 minutes before the scan. The radiotracer concentrates within cells of the body that actively use glucose for energy, such as rapidly growing cancer cells. Since the radiotracer must be allowed enough time to reach the targets in the body, a patient must wait quietly for about an hour before being scanned. Moving, talking and even reading could disrupt the proper distribution of the radiotracer.

“Patients would say the wait seemed like hours,” says Pennie Craig, supervisor, Diagnostic Imaging. “For them, time passed very slowly sitting alone with no distractions, except for a noisy clock. Hearing the minutes go by wasn’t exactly a comfort to these patients.”

In anticipation of the arrival of the flat screens, the prep rooms were painted a soothing color and the noisy clocks were replaced with quiet digital models. Now within easy view of the patient’s comfortable recliner is a high-definition slide show depicting spectacular scenes in nature. All photos are donated from Paul Allen’s personal photography collection, depicting thousands of images from the grandeur of America’s national parks to the vivid blue-white ice of Antarctica. Both Northwest and African landscapes are in the mix, as are underwater photos of sea life.

In the scanning room, another flat screen is secured to the ceiling above the head of the PET/CT machine so patients can view it while they are there. In addition to the collections of nature photos, there’s a sound system in the room. Run from an iPad equipped with the music service Pandora, a patient can request an artist or type of music if they have a preference, helping to make their treatment a more customized experience. As they listen to music, images of brightly colored coral reefs or colonies of penguins, among hundreds of others, serve as a welcome distraction from an otherwise tedious and anxious treatment process.

“We’ve heard from patients that for the first time they’ve felt relaxed during their scan, and they appreciate that,” says Pennie. “They say the music and beautiful photography helps them focus on something other than their illness for a change.”

A version of this article was originally published on Virginia Mason’s internal news site.

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