A small but increasing number of U.S. hospitals from Philadelphia to Phoenix are wiring their patient rooms for high-speed Internet access and interactive television. Beyond entertaining patients and generating extra revenue, these digital networks allow hospitals to deliver personalized health information, conduct real-time satisfaction surveys and automate some patient requests.
It works much like the TVs found in many business hotels. Patients use a handheld remote or wireless keyboard to access the network through their hospital room’s TV. Using digital set-top boxes, the TVs are linked to the Internet and can interface with the hospital’s admissions records or, in some cases, clinical systems.
“A common problem in healthcare is patients feel isolated and they want information” about their condition, said Janet Burnham, senior vice president for planning at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, which recently wired 200 of its beds, including Mr. Rivera’s. The Internet access and ability to send electronic messages to hospital staff gives patients “more control of their own destiny.”
Most hospitals offering these digital services don’t charge patients when they use them for medical information, or to take surveys. Many charge fees to watch premium movies and to use e-mail or surf the Web. The fees generally range from $5 to $10 for 24 hours of unlimited use.
For hospitals, the technology may improve patient satisfaction, generate some additional revenue and keep nurses from having to deal with nonmedical tasks. For instance, patients could send an electronic message directly to maintenance personnel if their room is too cold or to the kitchen staff if their lunch is wrong.
Physicians and hospital officials that are testing the new technology say they are most interested in using the Web-enabled TVs to deliver personalized educational materials and monitor patient satisfaction in real-time.