An MRI physicist at King's College Hospital in London has spearheaded a virtual reality app to help soothe children's fears about receiving an MRI. The "My MRI at King's" app is specially designed to walk children through the MRI process, which can be off-putting for first-timers of all ages.

In this app, children have the opportunity to see what it's like to be inside the MRI machine, including the loud tapping noises that happen as the electric current in the scanner coils is switched on and off, and learning that it is necessary to be as still as possible.

This isn't the first time that VR has been enlisted to help users face their fears. It's already being used to help users combat common fears like public speaking and arachnophobia, as well as more severe forms of anxiety such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

This app does seem more empathetic and easy-access than some other phobia-fighting VR tech we've seen, however. Rather than a self-help tool, it's one that parents and professionals can use in a gentle, nurturing setting. And it doesn't require high-tech tools like a PC-powered VR headset or even a mobile option like the Gear VR or Google Daydream. Instead, it can be used with an inexpensive Google Cardboard viewer, or watched as a 360-degree video on a tablet.

Assuaging fears is not only an empathetic move, it's also a shrewd one. Calmer patients make for more efficient hospitals. Frightened children are less likely to sit still during the duration of the scan, and sometimes require general anesthesia for the procedure.

My MRI at King's is available for free on the Google Play Store and is said to be coming to the App Store soon.

View gallery - 2 images