Radiating Hope: Radiology Department Blog


Empathy Overcomes Claustrophobia: Changing the Outcome for Two MRI Patients

Empathy Overcomes Claustrophobia: Changing the Outcome for Two MRI Patients

Photo: Gayle R. (lf) and Laura H. (rt)

noun claus·tro·pho·bia

: a fear of being in closed or small spaces
: an unhappy or uncomfortable feeling caused by being in a situation that limits or restricts you

Imagine what it must be like to have this kind of anxiety and go into an MRI machine. Many patients and family members feel ashamed or embarrassed when they experience that anxiety during an MRI, and some even become so overwhelmed and scared that the MRI must be cancelled.

Two MR technologists in our Radiology Department share stories of patients who suffered from claustrophobia but were able to accomplish the imaging and feel a new sense of achievement.


Gayle worked with a pregnant mother having a fetal MRI. As she explained the MRI process, the mother’s anxiety became more and more apparent. The first attempts at the MRI were not successful and resulted in the mother panicking and crying. However, Gayle could see that the mother really wanted to do the MRI for the sake of her baby so she and the mother created a new plan. This time the mother used the MRI movie goggles to block her view of the scanner and another technologist stayed at the mother’s bedside to provide soothing touch and reassurances during the scan. With true compassion for this mother’s experience, respect for her determination, and a collaborative team approach, the MRI was completed.


Laura, another MRI technologist, recently worked with a teenage boy who had tried MRI’s at another facility but was never able to complete them due to his anxiety and claustrophobia. Laura listened to the patient and his mom as they emotionally described how the boy had been all alone in the scanner with limited interaction from the technologist taking his pictures. This teenager tearfully admitted to being very afraid to try the MRI again. Laura sympathized with this family and offered a different experience for them that included using one of the larger MRI cameras that could provide more space for this bigger teenager. The patient’s mom was safety screened and allowed to stay in the scanner room, ensuring that the patient was not alone and would feel his mom’s reassuring touch throughout the scan. Laura also promised to talk to the boy in between all the imaging so that he would know that she was always with him. With true understanding and respect for this teenage patient’s fears, a new experience was created and he was able to complete a whole MRI for the first time.

noun em·pa·thy

: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions
: the ability to share someone else’s feelings

Story contributions by MRI Technologists Gayle Rousch and Laura Hanselman and edited by Catherine Leopard (CLS).

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About the author: Alex Towbin

Alex is a radiologist and the Neil D. Johnson Chair of Radiology Informatics. In this role, he helps to manage the information systems used by the Radiology department. Clinically, Alex is the Assistant Director of thoracoabdominal imaging. His research interests include liver disease, liver tumors, inflammatory bowel disease, and appendicitis.