High-tech monitors will help patients and their caregivers

  • Article by: DIANE C. LADE , Sun Sentinel
  • Updated: August 27, 2013 - 7:53 PM

High-tech monitors mix movies, medical care and Internet access for patients.

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Miami VA Community Living Center resident Chuck Rivenburgh III uses an adapter to change the television channel on the new GetWell system. Such interactive systems are part of the future for patients, and should improve their experiences and provide information that will help health care workers do their jobs better.

Photo: TAIMY ALVAREZ • Sun Sentinel,

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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.”

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  • The main menu of the GetWell system at the Miami VA hospital. “The nice thing is it really puts the patient in the driver’s seat,” a nurse said.

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