Mountain images, mood lighting and the gentle sound of ocean waves aren't normally associated with lying on an operating table. But beginning next week, Hoag Hospital will offer such sights and sounds to help put patients at ease during certain surgical procedures.
One observer likened the new environment to waiting for a massage instead of a scalpel.
On Wednesday, Hoag offered the media a sneak preview of the $3.5-million surgery center, which is officially known as the Allan and Sara Fainbarg Electrophysiology Catheterization Suite.
Dr. Jay H. Lee, the hospital's medical director of electrophysiology, said the lab is the first of its kind. Along with advanced technology, it enables patients who undergo surgery with mild sedation to have the mood of the room transformed with various images -- including the beach and mountains for adults, and cartoons for kids -- projected onto the ceiling.
"When patients come in for surgery, they often experience levels of high anxiety and that can interfere with us as medical staff," Lee said. "So it really does help us when our patients can be a bit more calm."
Ellen Chitjian -- who had a coronary angiogram at Hoag five years ago -- said the lab would make patients feel a lot more relaxed than she felt in a traditional operating room.
"I remember being anxious and seeing just a white room, lots of instruments and you just listen to what the surgeons tell you to do," Chitjian said. "This new lab looks like you're waiting to get a massage."
It's also better for doctors, thanks to the first "zero-gravity" radiation shield. Normally, surgeons operating amid x-ray machines and radiation must wear 20-pound lead vests. But the new lab suspends the vests and face covers from a movable track in the ceiling, enabling doctors to step into the protective gear without having to bear the weight.
"It's much more comfortable for us as doctors since some of the operations last up to six hours," Lee said. "I know many of my colleagues who develop back problems from the heavy vests.... This new technology will help in terms of career longevity and limit the soreness we feel from working in them."
Research will also be conducted to determine how the audiovisual features affect patients. Lee said he expects less anesthesia and medications will be needed and will reduce procedure times.
Hoag officials said a second electrophysiology catheterization suite would open in the fall.