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Strategies for MR Technologists to Reduce Patient Anxiety during MRI Exams

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a widely used diagnostic tool that provides highly detailed human body images. However, the MRI experience can overwhelm many patients, leading to anxiety and discomfort. As MR technologists, it is crucial to understand the importance of patient comfort and adopt strategies to minimize stress during MRI exams. Let's explore the art of patient comfort, focusing on the techniques and approaches MR technologists can employ to alleviate patient anxiety during MRI exams.


The Importance of Patient Comfort


1. Reduces Anxiety and Stress: MRI scans can be a source of anxiety and stress for patients, particularly those who are claustrophobic or experiencing the procedure for the first time. Prioritizing patient comfort can alleviate these feelings and lead to a more relaxed and cooperative patient, resulting in better-quality images.


2. Enhances Image Quality: Patient comfort is directly linked

patient comfort

to image quality. Uncomfortable patients are more likely to move during the procedure, causing motion artifacts that can compromise image quality and require repeat scans. Ensuring patient comfort will reduce the need for additional imaging and save valuable time and resources.


3. Improves Patient Satisfaction: A comfortable patient experience can lead to higher satisfaction levels, increased trust in the medical team, and a better overall perception of the healthcare facility. This, in turn, can result in better patient compliance, more effective communication, and improved long-term outcomes.


Understanding Patient Anxiety

MRI exams can be a significant source of stress for many patients, primarily due to several factors that may create discomfort or unease, including:

  • The confined nature of the MRI machine's tunnel can evoke claustrophobic sensations, making patients feel trapped or suffocated.

  • The loud noises produced by the machine during the exam can be startling and unsettling, particularly for those sensitive to sound. The lengthy exam duration, which

  • can last anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, further exacerbating these feelings of discomfort.

  • The requirement to remain completely still during the procedure can be challenging and stressful, especially for those who are restless or in pain.

  • The uncertainty about the potential findings of the MRI can create apprehension and worry, as patients may be concerned about possible health issues being uncovered during the exam.

Sometimes, patient anxiety can lead to involuntary movements, affecting image quality and potentially requiring a repeat examination. MR technologists must recognize signs of stress and employ strategies to improve the patient experience. Signs of patient stress include:

  • Accelerated breathing: Rapid or shallow breathing may indicate the patient is anxious or overwhelmed.

  • Increased heart rate: A higher-than-normal heart rate can indicate stress or anxiety.

  • Sweating: Excessive perspiration can be a physical manifestation of stress.

  • Fidgeting or restlessness: Constant movement or an inability to sit still may signal discomfort or nervousness.

  • Clenching of fists or jaw:  This can indicate tension and stress.

  • Avoiding eye contact:  Averting one's gaze can mean anxiety or discomfort.

  • Withdrawal or isolation: A patient experiencing stress may become quiet and withdrawn.

Strategies to Overcome Patient Stress


Communication and Education

Clear communication and education can significantly reduce patient anxiety. Before the examination, MR technologists should take the time to explain the procedure, what the patient should expect, and how long the process will take. Providing patients with detailed information about the exam can help alleviate fears and dispel misconceptions. Encourage patients to ask questions and address any concerns they may have, ensuring they feel informed and reassured.


Environment and Comfort

Creating a comfortable and soothing environment is essential for reducing patient anxiety. Adjusting the examination room's temperature and lighting and providing a clean, organized space can create a positive atmosphere. Additionally, allowing patients to listen to music, watch a video, or use aromatherapy during the examination can help them relax and focus on something other than the procedure.


Positioning and Support

Ensuring proper patient positioning is crucial for both image quality and patient comfort. Using pillows and cushions to support the patient's head, neck, and limbs can minimize discomfort and help them remain still during the exam. It is also essential to periodically check in with patients, ensuring they are comfortable and offering adjustments if needed.


Distraction Techniques

Distraction techniques can help patients manage anxiety and maintain stillness during the exam. Breathing exercises or guided imagery can assist patients in remaining calm and focused. MR technologists can also provide stress balls or fidget toys for patients to hold, offering a tactile distraction.


Five Patient Focus Areas for MR Technologists

  1. Clear Communication: Explaining the MRI procedure to patients beforehand can significantly reduce their anxiety. Answer any questions they might have, inform them about the duration of the scan, and give them a step-by-step overview of what to expect. Providing clear instructions on breath-holding and motion control will further enhance patient comfort and the quality of images.

  2. Personalized Care: Acknowledge each patient's unique needs and concerns. For example, consider offering earplugs or headphones with music to mitigate the noise from the MRI machine or providing a blanket if the patient is cold. Providing additional support or padding to alleviate pressure points can improve patient comfort.

  3. Addressing Claustrophobia: Patients with claustrophobia may benefit from open MRI scanners or shorter-bore machines, which offer a less confining environment. If these options are unavailable, delivering a mild sedative or practicing relaxation techniques with the patient before the procedure can be helpful.

  4. Minimizing Discomfort from Contrast Agents: When administering contrast agents, ensure that patients are well-informed about potential side effects, such as a cold sensation or metallic taste. Using a smaller gauge needle and slow injection techniques can also help minimize discomfort.

  5. Creating a Calming Environment: A comfortable, inviting atmosphere can contribute to the patient's overall sense of well-being. Soft lighting, soothing colors, and artwork can help create a more relaxing environment while keeping the MRI suite clean and clutter-free can reduce anxiety.

Patient-Controlled Measures

MRI exams can often evoke feelings of anxiety and powerlessness in patients due to confined spaces and unfamiliar noises. However, innovative technologists can alleviate these concerns by empowering patients with a sense of control throughout the process. Utilizing advanced technologies such as virtual reality (VR) simulations, patients can familiarize themselves with the MRI environment and even experience the noises they will encounter during the procedure.


This immersive pre-examination experience allows patients to develop coping mechanisms and reduces anxiety. Furthermore, technologists foster a sense of autonomy and comfort by

providing patients with a personalized approach, including clear communication and choices about aspects of the MRI exam, such as music or ambient lighting, transforming the MRI experience from one of dread to one of empowerment.


In addition to these strategies, technologists are increasingly adopting wearable devices and mobile apps to monitor patients; vital signs and stress levels during the MRI exam. By tracking real-time data and offering instant biofeedback, patients gain a sense of control over their physical and emotional responses to the procedure. This mitigates anxiety and encourages patients to engage in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or guided imagery, to enhance their sense of calm and well-being further.


Moreover, technologists can empower patients by actively involving them in decision-making related to the scheduling and duration of the MRI exam. Patients feel more in control of their medical care by providing flexible options and accommodating individual preferences.


Lastly, technologists can educate patients about the importance of MRI exams and their role in accurate diagnosis and treatment. This knowledge helps patients view the MRI experience as an essential and empowering aspect of their healthcare journey, ultimately fostering a positive attitude and greater control.


By following these ten tips, MR technologists can significantly reduce patient stress and improve a patient's experience:

  1. Educate patients about MRI: Provide clear, concise information about the procedure, explaining what it involves, its duration, and what they can expect. Communicating helps to demystify the process and alleviate fears stemming from the unknown.

  2. Encourage questions: Allow patients to ask questions or express their concerns about the MRI procedure. Answering their questions patiently and addressing their concerns can help to relieve anxiety.

  3. Create a calming environment: Ensure the MRI room has a comfortable temperature, soft lighting, and minimal noise. A soothing atmosphere can help patients feel more at ease.

  4. Offer relaxation techniques: Teach patients deep breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques to help them stay calm and focused during the MRI. Encourage them to practice these techniques before and during the scan.

  5. Provide distractions: Offer patients the option to listen to music, watch a movie, or listen to a calming podcast during the MRI. Distrfrom the procedure and reduce anxiety.

  6. Communicate throughout the process: Keep patients informed about what's happening during each stage of the MRI. Knowing what to expect can help them feel more in control and reduce anxiety.

  7. Establish a signal: Agree on a sign the patient can use to stop the scan or communicate with the technician. This will give them a sense of control and reassurance that they can pause the process if necessary.

  8. Consider sedation or anti-anxiety medications: For patients with severe anxiety or claustrophobia, discuss the possibility of using sedation or anti-anxiety drugs to help them feel more comfortable during the MRI.

  9. Encourage the presence of a support person: If possible, allow a family member or friend to accompany the patient during the procedure. Their company can provide emotional support and help alleviate anxiety.

  10. Follow-up after the scan: Check in with the patient after the MRI to discuss the experience and address any lingering concerns. This can help them feel heard and cared for, alleviating anxiety about future procedures.

The art of patient comfort is an essential part of MRI examinations. As MR technologists, it is crucial to prioritize patient well-being and reduce anxiety during MRI exams. By implementing clear communication, creating a comfortable environment, ensuring proper positioning, employing distraction techniques, and offering patient-controlled measures, technologists can improve the patient experience and ensure successful outcomes. A comfortable and relaxed patient is likelier to remain still and cooperative, leading to better image quality and more accurate diagnoses.


MR technologists who want to reduce patient anxiety should learn more about InkSpace Imaging's body arrays. Our featherlight, flexible body array can help reduce patient anxiety, and they deliver extraordinary imaging by allowing you to get closer to your patient.


Get in touch to learn more.


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