Internet Access as a Hospital Service?

By | 2006/06/30

Back when I was in the hospital in 2004, one thing that helped my state of mind was getting online via dial-up to the Internet. I could do email, surf the web, do instant messaging, and generally keep in touch with reality outside the hospital room. Late in my first stay, an administrative type came by and had a cow over the fact that I had a laptop computer plugged into a power outlet, and also that I had hooked up to the phone line. Neither was allowed, she said.

Let me tell you that the time I spent in the hospital when I couldn’t use my laptop, not for Internet acces, not for DVD-playing, not for any personal data project, was pretty depressing.

Now, some of that could just be me. I haven’t heard of anyone else offhand who set up their weblog in recovery within a couple of days of major surgery. But I’m thinking that perhaps there might be some value to making Internet access available to patients stuck in hospital. There could even be some intra-hospital application, as if there were an instant-messaging-like interface to the nurses’ station, I could have simply typed in what sort of thing was up. Messages to the patient could remind them to get up and walk at intervals.

But I think that investigating the value of providing computer access, and especially Internet access, to hospital patients should be pursued. So, if anybody out there is an M.D. or hospital adminstrator who sees some possibilities there, I would be happy to help in discussing the topic and perhaps collaborating on it.

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8 thoughts on “Internet Access as a Hospital Service?

  1. Deacon Barry

    My sympathies for your plight. I must admit, if I were an inpatient, recovering in hospital, and unable to update my blog, I’d be miffed too.
    The thing is, I’m a staff nurse (in Scotland), and I see it from a different point of view.
    In our hospital, health and safety regulations insist that all personal electrical equipment has to be checked by an Estates electrician before it can be plugged into a hospital socket. There’s about a hundred people in the building on a typical day, and if a fault causes a fire, then all those lives are at risk.
    If you use a phone line in a hospital, the phone company charges the hospital, so unless you pay for its use, you are taking money from the hospital, and we’re strapped for cash as it is.
    On our ward, we’ve only got four phone lines, so you wouldn’t be able to plug your computer in anyway.
    In the newer hospitals, the ones built by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), you can hire a TV and a phone for a extortionate amount, so presumably you can get internet access – at a price. You’d probably still have to wait 2-3 days for an electrician to check your computer though.

  2. Austringer Post author

    I appreciate the safety concerns. I have no doubt, though, that those can be met. The hospital I stayed in had whole classes of electrical equipment that patients could plug in without individual assessment; the power supplies for laptop computer operation are no more prone to glitches and faults than several of the permitted devices.

    More importantly, though, I think that it would be useful for a rigorous study to examine whether patient access to computers and the Internet provide a measurable benefit. That’s what I am encouraging. If there is no measurable benefit to be had, then it would be difficult to urge any more speed in getting laptop power supplies listed among the “permitted” class of devices. On the other hand, if there is such a benefit (and I have my own experience to say that this is a distinct possibility), then there would be a clinical reason to push for faster adoption of policies to permit patients to use their own equipment, or for hospitals to provide equipment, much as they provide televisions in rooms today, at least in the USA. How much money a hospital would care to put into it should be correlated with the degree of benefit that can be demonstrated. But we need to get to an evaluation before it makes sense to make sweeping decisions.

    The phone system in the UK was, last I heard, FUBAR anyway.

  3. Deacon Barry

    Reports of its Fubarriness are exaggerated. It seems to work well enough.
    I agree that access to the internet could be beneficial to patients’ convalescence. It would provide a distraction that might help pain relief. We’ve got an old Sega game system on the ward which our younger patients like to play. How do we get somebody to fund a study into the healing powers of cyberspace?

  4. Austringer Post author

    Yes, I’m uncertain about where to go for funding such a study. Although you’ve given me an idea. I used to work for an anesthesiology department that had established a pain clinic. Perhaps I’ll get on the phone and see if anybody I knew is still around to talk to there. They might not be interested, but they might know of other people who would be, or have advice on funding agencies.

    The FUBARness of the UK system isn’t in the physical system, so far as I’ve been told, but rather in the administration of it and the apparent need to use it as a means of extortion rather than providing a near-universal and cheap means of communicating. But maybe I ought to just start another thread on phone service and internet access.

  5. Julia

    This sounds like a very worthwhile idea.

    A few years ago, a student, aged about 35, in one of my online classes developed an unexpected life-threatening illness. Throughout his lengthy stay in several (U.S.) hospitals, he continued to use his laptop to stay in touch with his studies and his classmates. While online, he wasn’t a dying patient; he was simply a person on the same level as everyone else in the class. While the severity of his illness prevented him from achieving the class goals, I think it was very comforting to him to be able to continue with at least that small portion of his normal life.

  6. Julia

    Sorry, it would have been good if I had included my actual point in that comment I just posted: maybe you could interest one of the big online teaching organizations (like University of Phoenix) into helping fund such a study.

  7. Robert

    We are in the process of setting up Internet access for patents visitors and staff in Hospitals in NZ this is a paid service where by the Hospital profit shares in the selling of Internet time to patients visitors and staff members the units provided are on a secondary network, completely separate to the hospitals intra net but use their ADSL connection wireless hot spots in some wards will also be available this also will be a paid service, income of going back into hospital to assist with costs

  8. Austringer Post author

    A spammer left a comment that I’d like to respond to, minus the linkage to spammer site:

    The reason why patients are not allowed to use the computers is that they are not healthy and they have come to rest under medical supervision if they use computers it will create a strain on their minds but something can be done for people who are well enough to do some work or pass their time.

    Any evidence for the assertion that laptop use in hospital is a strain on the brain and not a beneficial diversion from ennui in enforced bed-rest?

    I didn’t think so.

    The question is exactly why I proposed researching the issue, and not a general statement of advocacy. For myself, I think the experience was a big positive. Others may not react the same way. Encouraging flexibility of hospital administrators in finding what works for patients and not making blanket enforcements or denials seem the best course.

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