About six years ago, nobody said it couldn’t be done. Nobody even knew there was a problem.  And so, nobody tried to solve the unknown problem.  Then 24-year GE veteran design engineer Doug Dietz got the opportunity to see a new model MRI scanner being installed in the pediatric area of a major hospital.

He was talking with one of the nurses when she took him to a hall and he saw a young, panicked girl.  She was being led to a scanner by one of the technicians and had lost all emotional control.  She was so upset that the technician called for an anesthesiologist.  And Doug was upset that this procedure was needed.  Then he found out that as many as 80% of kids have to be sedated before being tested in these large imaging systems. If there is no anesthesiologist available, the test usually had to be cancelled and rescheduled. More aggravation for the family and lost revenue for the hospital. Doug was heart broken.

But Doug was also fixated on making his new product kid friendly. He was fortunate to have his boss recommend that Doug attend a weeklong workshop on human-centered design and other related concepts.  Doug’s creative juices started to flow and he and his team eventually came up with the idea of turning the MRI scanner and the room it was in into an adventure area that would engage and relax the young children.  He did it by turning the machine into part of an adventure story that the kids could join.

In addition to the customized equipment, GE also created stories for each type of instrument, rewards to give the kids after their trip into the imaging equipment, decorations for the total area and specific training for technicians to make the kids part of the story.  The percent of kids needing to be sedated dropped significantly.

After installing the prototype in a hospital and seeing the positive outcomes, GE Healthcare decided to commercialize the pediatric imagers in their New Adventure Series.

While describing the process in a few paragraphs does not do Doug and his team justice, I believe the results, and not the design process, are more important for the readers.

Here is one of the instruments in the Adventure Series:

Doug discovered that his instruments were causing his customer’s customers to have major stress (value destructing), needed an anesthesiologist as much as 80% of the time (value destructing), and frequently resulted in rescheduled test (value destructing).
The new equipment, stories, etc. corrected all those situations.

Note that the definition of innovation is essentially identical to the definition of customer value creation.  This is because “innovation” without the creation of customer value is just another lesson learned along a journey.  When the innovation is successful in meeting customer needs, it is INNOVATION.

But what if the hospital is not in the market for a new imaging machine and they still want to calm the kids before their appointment?  Well, innovators in the UK came up with two unique solutions that did not match the cost or efficiency of the GE products, but certainly improve the experience of the kids.

One built a scale model of a scanner sized to handle a small toy.  I don’t know if they added sound effects but I certainly would.  When a kid runs a simulated test on her doll or his truck and sees that nothing bad happens, there is some stress reduction in both the patient and the parents.  Here is what it looks like:

A more elegant solution comes from the University of Southampton Hospital in the UK.  They created a full size blow up MRI.  The patients can play in it and start getting comfortable with the machine before they use the real one.  Here is a picture:

Again, the familiarity in a fun environment helps calm the patients down before they are inserted in the actual machine.

Key Takeaway

All of us in the service side of our business spend a lot of time with both our customers and our customer’s customer.  We should all be on the lookout for how our products and services are being used and how everyone involved is reacting.  Are they always looking at “cheat sheets”, do they have post-it notes stuck up all around your product, do people appear stressed or flustered when they have to interact with your stuff, and are they complaining about anything?

As your customer’s trusted advisor, you must be their advocate.  You must share your observations with Product Managers, Marketers, Sales Management, Applications Specialist, anyone who has a say in the design of your products.  You may not know the solution to the customer’s problems, but you can identify when they have to work extra-hard to get their job done.  You don’t have to be another Doug, but you have an obligation to try and get someone excited enough to make your customer’s job easier to complete.

Note:  This post was based on five documents:

  1. Kids Were Terrified of Getting MRIs. Then One Man Figured Out a Better Way. It appeared in The Eye on Oct.18, 2013
  2. From Terrifying to Terrific: The Creative Journey of the Adventure Series GE Healthcare, Sept. 20, 2012
  3. GE Healthcare Brochure Adventure Series available for download from this page
  4. Pictures of the equipment and the various rooms
  5. An Inflatable MRI!- A brilliant insight driven healthcare innovation reported in Mat Shore’s Blog, Nov. 2, 2016