Elegant Toys That Explain Scary Medical Procedures To Kids

Being in a hospital is no fun for adults who understand the need to be poked and prodded. But for kids, the experience can be even more dreadful.

This is part of a series highlighting notable entries to our 2012 Innovation By Design Awards–Ed.


A trip through a CT scanner can be a harrowing experience: Lying on a narrow examination table, you’re slid into a short tunnel, where you’re expected to remain perfectly still for half an hour while an X-ray tube rotates around you. The exam is nerve-racking for those who understand the procedure, but it can be downright scary and bewildering for a child. In trying to demystify such procedures to kids, hospital personnel typically use dolls and real medical instruments like syringes and drips to kids, but those methods aren’t effective at dispelling the understandable fear.

“Examinations and operations are a cause of anxiety in the little patients, [which] can be relieved by informing them of what to expect during their visit,” writes Hikaru Imamura, a recent Eindhoven grad. After seeing what explanatory tools hospitals had at their disposal, including computer games and videos, the young Japanese designer decided to take a different tack: “I thought it’s more important to make things that attract children’s interest as stuff to play with,” he tells Co.Design. “As a result, I made toys that had simple devices such as light or sound, instead of representing the details of machines or having high-tech devices.”

His toys represent four common pieces of medical equipment–CT scanner, X-ray machine, echocardiograph, and electrocardiograph–in simple, wooden forms, and each one has a light or sound, so children can imagine how these strange machines work. (The patient is depicted as part of a family of bears.) Imamura even designed accompanying picture books. He is currently collaborating with a university hospital in the Netherlands to develop two other toys, an MRI and an operating room. But before he can expand the project, he’ll need an injection of cash. GE, whaddaya say?

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.