Logged in while laid up

Bedside terminals keep Central Baptist patients entertained and connected to the outside world

by Vicki M. Pettus

 

Lexington, KY - Central Baptist Hospital has just the right prescription for keeping patients close to their family and friends during a hospital stay. That prescription involves a device called ConnectMe, and it is helping keep patients pleasurably occupied and in touch with the outside world.

The ConnectMe terminal is similar to a computer monitor and sits on an adjustable arm near the hospital bed. Using the touchscreen, patients can access e-mail, Skype, visit social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, surf secured Internet sites, listen to music, watch movies on demand, and read educational materials prepared by the hospital. Patients can even buy items from the hospital gift shop.

One of the most valuable features of ConnectMe, however, is a continuous feedback survey that patients can access at any time to let hospital staff know their pain and comfort levels. It also allows patients, some of whom may be reluctant to complain to hospital staff directly, to report any problems concerning noise, room temperature or other issues with the care they are receiving.

That's exactly what Dan Hollingshead intended when he created ConnectMe. He is the president and CEO of ConnectedPatients, a company he started in 2008 after having worked 10 years in hospitals as a heart/lung machine technician.

Hollingshead wanted to address problems with the traditional way hospitals receive patient feedback, which is usually by mailing a survey to the patients' homes weeks after they have left the hospital.

"I started thinking that we're providing all this care in 'real time,' but we have no mechanism to measure in real time what our patients think of the care," Hollingshead said.

He also wanted to do something about patient rooms that begged for more creature comforts.

"Hospitals have a ton of technology in operating rooms and diagnostic areas. The patient room is a 'black hole' for technology. There's nothing in there," he said. "We want to make it easier for hospitals to make that leap into technology that patients crave in the patient room."

Central Baptist began its pilot program with ConnectMe over a year ago and currently has 75 of the terminals in two of its units — Mother-Baby and Outpatient Oncology. Hospital staff has found the equipment to be user-friendly and a welcome tool in dealing with patients.

"At first, I was afraid this would somehow come between us and the patient," said Leslie Coulter, a nurse and director of the mother-baby unit. "I couldn't see how it could be useful to us — only that it would be a sort of play thing for them."

But she, along with unit coordinator Tyra Moore, has witnessed just the opposite.

Moore said that Hollingshead understands hospitals and has helped them tailor the information and applications of the monitors to their particular unit's needs.

"He is able to customize even to the individual's needs in a room," she said.

Consequently, medical staff is able to access information on each baby's behavior, while providing educational materials for new mothers in areas such as breastfeeding and nutrition. They have also created a postpartum support program via e-mail, an idea developed directly from using the terminals.

Kara Harris, who was recently recovering from a Caesarean childbirth, liked having ConnectMe and used it frequently in between caring for her newborn.

"Everybody wants to feel connected to family and friends after a big moment like this," said Harris. "You want to be able to share things immediately."

Harris wasted no time posting pictures of her baby on the Internet and said ConnectMe made her feel like the hospital was "up with the times."

Even her husband, Brian, liked the technology and enjoyed using it to watch movies in the room, Harris said.

Terminals in the outpatient oncology unit are particularly helpful for patients who have to sit for two to four hours while receiving treatments.

"It's a great way to pass the time," said Annetta Speaks, director of the unit.

For patient Jonathan Blunk, who must spend up to eight hours on an intravenous "drip" for treatment of a nervous system disease, the terminal has made a huge difference.

"It's absolutely great," he said. "It's far more than entertainment. It's a distraction and keeps me from thinking about my illness and why I'm there."

That type of patient response to ConnectMe pleases Ruth Ann Childers. As director of public relations, patient satisfaction is her primary goal at Central Baptist.

"Patients have come to expect quality compassionate care at Central Baptist and love the amenities here that make it more like home," said Childers.

Future plans are for patients to be able to use the terminals to order meals and to take care of the lengthy paperwork needed for discharge from the hospital.

Hollingshead said he hopes to introduce ConnectMe to other area hospitals as well. He sees limitless possibilities, including the eventual use of the terminals by physicians to access secured patient information at the bedside.