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Hospitals now offer high-speed Internet

LodgeNet has begun installing interactive TV and high-speed internet connections in hospital room in 10 states.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Feel like watching a movie?  Need an extra blanket or some food?  For years, guests at hotels have gotten these amenities with a phone call or a few clicks of the TV remote.

Now this instant gratification is available to patients in hospitals across the nation through interactive television, high-speed Internet and other comfort-oriented perks designed to make them feel like hotel guests.

LodgeNet Entertainment Corp. has installed interactive TV systems in 10 hospitals in New Jersey, Missouri, Alabama, Washington state, Texas and South Dakota, and has contracts with twice that many, said Gary Kolbeck, the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based company's vice president of health care business development.

LodgeNet, whose customers include major hotel chains such as Hilton and Ritz Carlton, has been offering the hospital services for about a year and a half.

Kolbeck said the trend is driven in part by baby boomer patients with high expectations and the need to generate revenue in a competitive market.

"To me it was just a no-brainer," said Albert Pilkington III, chief executive of Fairmont General Hospital in Fairmont, W.Va.  "It puts more time in my employees' hands and it improves the quality of service."

Fairmont General's system, which Pilkington expects to be online within 90 days, will include a numeric keypad that can be used for everything from choosing a movie or a video game to ordering items from the gift shop or requesting room temperature changes.

Pilkington said the system also can provide educational programming that is specific to a patient's condition and treatment. These programs can be viewed as many times as the patient wants.

The system also includes a real-time patient satisfaction survey that allows staff at the 207-bed hospital to address concerns or complaints immediately.

"We're a very patient-oriented hospital," he said.  "Service is a big deal for us. It's probably our main focus."

Pilkington declined to disclose the system's price, except to say, "it'll be a six-digit purchase."  He said there will be no additional cost for patients.

The cost to install a similar system in 400-plus patient rooms at West Virginia University Hospitals' Ruby Memorial is estimated at $600,000, said spokesman Steve Bovino.  He could not say when the system will be in place.

"When it comes to health care, or any other service for that matter, consumer expectations continue to rise," said Randy Bury, chief administrative officer for Sioux Valley Hospital USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.

"Nothing else to do"
Bury said Sioux Valley's system creates a more homelike environment for patients or visitors who often feel stuck "with nothing else to do."

Sioux Valley officials initially planned to phase in the system in the 500-bed hospital over four months, but Bury said positive feedback from patients spurred them to implement it all within a couple of weeks.

"What was happening, we'd have a patient in a unit with the system who got used to it, then that patient would be transferred to another unit without the system and would be dissatisfied," he said. "We started hearing that loud and clear."

Some hospitals have taken the concept of creating a hotel-like atmosphere even further.

Interactive TV is just one of many perks available at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano in Plano, Texas, which offers room service from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"Guests can have breakfast at 2 p.m.," as long as it's within their dietary requirements, said Deanne Kindred, vice president of finance. Each patient can order from a menu that has been specifically created for him or her.

"It's not like the old Jell-O in the plastic cup," she said.

Besides wireless Internet access for laptop users, Baylor also has a "business center" on each floor, equipped with personal computers so that visitors can have access to the Internet and e-mail.

Other amenities offered at the 96-bed medical center include a Starbucks, a terraced garden, valet parking and toiletries for patients or family members.  Staff refer to patients as "guests" and information is obtained from the "concierge desk," said Kindred.

Bury said guest-oriented hospitals will soon be the norm rather than the exception.

"If you don't have it, you might as well start planning," he said, "because consumer expectations are going to be there."