TVs in your hospital room are so yesterday.
In the near future, flat-screen terminals mounted on the wall or near your bedside might offer a lot more than entertainment. Patients will be able to surf the Internet, order their meals, communicate with nurses and view their latest X-rays — all through interactive patient-care systems.
Educational videos on managing medical conditions, prescription orders and medical records can be flashed on the same screen where patients view dozens of television channels and just-released movies.
“The nice thing is it really puts the patient in the driver’s seat,” said Gary Harper, a registered nurse specializing in information management and communication at the West Palm Beach (Fla.) VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach, Fla., where 259 high-tech terminals should arrive by year’s end. “And it will help the nurses give even better care.”
West Palm Beach VA is one of six veterans hospitals in Florida scheduled to have systems installed in the next year, according to GetWellNetwork Inc., the Maryland technology company handling the project.
Hospital technology experts predict interactive systems, which have been around for more than a decade, will start taking off for one simple reason: They make patients happier. And that could make a big difference to a hospital’s bottom line.
Medicare now collects patient satisfaction data and cuts reimbursements for facilities performing poorly, said Nathan Larmore, a principle-and-practice leader at Sparling, a Seattle-based technology consulting firm advising the health care industry.
And using interactive tools to get patients more involved in their care should reduce hospital readmissions, Larmore said, which is another factor affecting reimbursements.
“In the past, hospitals looked at bedside technologies that improved a patient’s experiences as luxuries. But once they were mandated to focus on patient satisfaction, there was renewed interest,” Larmore said. “Hospitals being built in the last eight years are starting to look more like hotels, which is the industry where some of this technology has come from.”
Larmore estimates that about 10 to 15 percent of acute-care hospitals nationwide have interactive patient terminals. Costs have held many of them back, he said, as systems can run “several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars” per room.
“Project managers are used to spending millions of dollars on a fancy lobby, but not several hundred dollars on a television system,” Larmore said.
Children leading the way
Many of the early adopters have been children’s hospitals, he said, “because kids focus on their environment and adapt to the technology.”
Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., has replaced televisions with interactive monitors. The GetWell Town system, a pediatric product from GetWellNetwork, was part of the new Joe DiMaggio building construction in 2011, then was expanded into the original hospital.
“When we were doing the new building, we talked to the kids about what they wanted, and they said a computer in their room,” said Michelle Barone, director of patient and family centered care for Joe DiMaggio and Memorial Regional Hospital, also in south Florida. “They wanted to be able to get on the Internet and watch movies without waiting for a volunteer to bring them a DVD.”
GetWell Town does all that — plus medical education videos, a hospital-wide game show, and an interface that lets young patients bring in their own Xbox or Wii games.
Barone said Memorial has discussed bringing interactive systems to the adult hospitals, “but right now, it’s all about the numbers,” she said. “When kids are in the hospital, we go above and beyond to cheer them up. We forget that when you’re an adult, you want to be coddled a little, too.”
Officials with the VA, which has its own federal health care funding, say the monitoring systems will greatly improve life for veterans residing in their Community Living Centers, which will be the among the first units to get the terminals.
The Miami VA, the first Florida veterans’ hospital to receive its systems, started the $2.4 million project in June, installing 230 units in the living center and some inpatient rooms.
Chuck Rivenburgh III, 43, is one of four paralyzed vets in Miami’s living center who got a “sip and puff” adapter, allowing him to flip through 48 television channels and pick from among 30 recently released movies by blowing through what looks like a double-pronged straw. The monitor is mounted on a flexible arm attached to the wall, allowing it to be pulled close to Rivenburgh’s bedside.
Rivenburgh, who served in the Army during Desert Storm but was injured after returning home, has lived at the VA hospital for 14 years. Before the GetWell system, he said he was limited to 14 TV channels, none of which included NFL games.
He is thinking of adding a keyboard to his tray table so he can access the Internet through his bedside monitor rather than at the computer on the other side of his crowded room.
“My TV is on pretty much all day long, so all these functions are a huge improvement,” he said.
Louis Marcus, GetWell’s interactive patient care manager for the South Florida VA installations, said the system will be upgraded so that doctors and nurses can leave notes, check pain levels and allow patients to order meals. Such terminals will become even more valuable as medical records go electronic, Marcus said.
As for the veterans, “The feedback has been great,” Marcus said. “I had one family who was visiting sit down with me for half an hour and tell me how grateful they were.”