National Heart Centre radiographer Rey Pagco demonstrates how a patient can use a control panel to select his ideal choice of lights and images. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

SOME heart patients being fitted with stents at the National Heart Centre have a new alternative to sedation to calm their nerves - soft music and soothing images.

Patients usually remain awake while they are being checked for blocked arteries or being fitted with stents, small wire cages that keep their previously blocked blood vessels open.

The procedure takes 45 minutes to 11/2 hours in rooms that are generally sterile and cold.

'Some patients are so scared that they are actually trembling when they enter the room,' said Associate Professor Koh Tian Hai, medical director of the National Heart Centre.

About one in 10 patients is so nervous or fidgets so much that he or she needs to be sedated. If the patient were calm, the heart would not beat so fast, making it easier for doctors doing the procedure, he explained.

Electronics and health-care giant Philips offered the centre a solution. The company produces a system known as the Ambient Experience, which fills the room with soft lights and music and projects images like cartoons or landscape on two overhead screens.

Patients can control the images and the colour and intensity of the lights.

Mr Steve Rusckowski, chief executive officer of Philips Healthcare, said one hospital in the United States now sedates 28 per cent fewer young children during CT scans because of this.

Madam Neo Pee, 75, the first to try it here when she had a stent put in this week, thoroughly enjoyed seeing kangaroos hopping through a jungle scene.

The Ambient Experience was thrown in as a sweetener when the Heart Centre upgraded one of its four catheterisation laboratories.

Prof Koh said if the feature proves helpful to patients, it could be introduced in the other three labs.

Every year, about 5,000 patients go through the labs and for now, one in four will get to enjoy the new visuals and lights, although he pointed out that they will not be able to opt for the experience.

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