Healthcare Most Wired: A Partner In Patient Satisfaction
Upgrading the standard patient room television to an interactive system is an opportunity and an IT challenge.
Interactive, Internet-enabled patient communication, education and entertainment systems offer new opportunities for hospitals to improve the quality of care and customer satisfaction. While the in-room display for these systems may be a television, the interactive platform behind the TV is a complete information technology system with individual computers, servers, routers, structured cable and software linkages with the potential to stretch across the hospital’s entire information enterprise.
The implication for hospital leaders is clear: Patient interactive applications can leverage a hospital’s information system investments and deliver education, entertainment and connection to the patient’s bedside. By drawing on some of the lessons learned by the hospitals that have pioneered these applications during the past three years, you can distinguish your institution and develop loyalty from your patients.
Become a health information portal: Some interactive systems include an Internet connection via the television for the patient. For hospitals that already have Wi-Fi access in patient rooms, Internet-enabled television isn’t necessarily redundant because it can serve a different purpose. The hospital’s interactive system can guide patients and families to the best health information available, whereas Wi-Fi Internet access by itself throws open the doors to a world of information-not all of it reliable-which can overwhelm patients.
For example, using Google to search “congestive heart failure” returns 3 million entries. Which one should a patient visit to find accurate information? But with an Internet-enabled patient interactive system, a hospital can guide a patient directly to the five Web sites the hospital knows will be of most help. And in guiding the patient, the hospital can establish its own Web site as the first place to go for all the patient’s health care questions.
Get the best picture: Televisions have become IT components. Digital platforms, high-definition screens, sleek profiles and a multiplicity of direct-to-computer connections have created state-of-theart monitors for almost any application the hospital wants to run. And at the touch of a button, they return to being health care-grade TVs to entertain patients.
Digital, high-definition TVs are essential to providing the display quality needed for Internet pages, PACS images, educational PDFs and other information-rich images to be viewed by a patient and family.
Prepare to boost bandwidth: In the most recent implementations of interactive patient platforms, hospitals have been choosing to run the system over the in-house IT infrastructure. This represents a change from earlier set-ups, in which stand-alone systems were managed exclusively by the interactive system vendor and had limited interconnections to the hospital information system. While this change gives system ownership to the IT department, it also requires the development of a capacity management strategy.
Just as CIOs are planning system capacity to accommodate an explosion of clinical and administrative data, they should plan on interactive systems staking out their own claims. A typical hospital patient accessing an Internet page over an interactive system makes a modest 15 kbps capacity demand, and at any given time fewer than 10 percent of patients are likely to be online. But when patients access video over the Internet, the demand can grow to 700 kbps or even higher.
With entertainment and educational video content on demand moving to Internet channels, a higher percentage of patients are also likely to go online, which will lead to bigger payoffs in access and satisfaction, but also bigger and potentially conflicting capacity demands as well.
Keep it neat, not inaccessible: Nothing destroys the “gee whiz” impact of a patient interactive system as quickly as wires and cables visibly spilling out from the back of the television. There are several good solutions, particularly in new construction and in-room renovations, to manage the extra cables, but they require upfront planning with interactive system vendor.
Before installing the room computer or thin client in a remote location like the ceiling, consider how accessible the unit will be if it needs service. A thin client mounted behind a wide-screen TV won’t be a visual distraction, and it will be much easier to service than a ceiling-mounted device. Some interactive systems offer a thin client that can be located in an equipment closet outside the room, and that can be a great option if the space is available.
Test and certify each room: Be sure the interactive system vendor commits to establishing a testing protocol and implements it with documentation in every room. A patient interactive system has several critical components, and installation and initial implementation provide the opportunity to shake out the problems before patients can encounter them. Vendor certification should be closely followed by live, in-room education and training of the support personnel and caregivers.
Use a full-service, experienced vendor: Interactive communication systems aren’t suited for piecemeal efforts by inexperienced start-up ventures. The best vendors will be experienced, full-service partners through the entire process, from planning to procurement, through installation, implementation, training, and ongoing system monitoring and support. A patient interactive vendor who says, “I don’t do the TVs” should worry you as much as a clinical IT vendor who says, “I don’t do the user interfaces to the system.”
A Market Differentiator
The best implementations result when the health care organization designates a single individual to serve as the decision-making point of contact to the hospital’s WAN, LAN, security, telecom and other experts. A well-led team is the key to producing an interactive system that demonstrates your health care staff’s unique competence, caring and commitment to the patient and family-and that frees up staff time in the process. More and more hospitals are finding that interactive platforms make a big difference to their patients and are a big differentiator in public perception as well.
By George Fleming
George Fleming is president of TeleHealth Services, which delivers integrated communication, education and entertainment solutions to hospitals and health systems, and CEO of its parent company, Telerent Leasing Corp., in Raleigh, N.C.