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promotes comfort

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

There you lay in a hospital bed, alone and anxious, wondering about your condition and wanting to shut that light off, which seems just out of reach. Not wanting to bother the nurse, you stare at the ceiling. The patient you share your room with is snoring loudly, and his family has taken the extra chair from your side of the room.

Earlier in the day, when the doctor spoke to you, everything seemed to make so much sense about your condition. But now, looking back, you have lots of unanswered questions. In fact, you realize that you knew more about the last car you were buying than about your surgery next Tuesday.

You wonder why your hospital stay has to be like this.

So does Saint Luke’s Northland Hospital. That’s why they embarked on the largest expansion in their history, adding two new patient floors on the east wing of their hospital that feature 31 private patient beds, the newest and most up-to-date hospital rooms in the region.

At 340 square feet, the private, hotel-like rooms are the biggest in the area. Decorative wood paneling replaces plaster, colorful mosaic-like tiles replace dull, lifeless metal doorjambs. 42-inch plasma televisions adorn the walls where little, 12-inch black and whites used to be bolted. The sofa is a fold out futon style couch, not a creeky, bar-in-your-back cot.

On the patient’s lap, next to the light controls, is a wireless keyboard – a gateway to the information superhighway and yes, even movies on demand.

For the hospital, the network the patient can tap into is nearly as important as the room upgrades themselves.

“Basically, we knew and we know that consumers are continuing to educate themselves and they want to keep themselves informed on things,” said Kevin Trimble, Saint Luke’s Northland Hospital senior vice president. “Healthcare literacy is a growing issue where people want to know more about what is going on with them and their condition. We needed to create something to meet that demand.”

Trimble said the hospital started designing their own, proprietary system but soon learned of a Washington DC based company called Get Well Networks, a healthcare interactive services firm that specialized in the type of system Trimble was looking for.

Like Saint Luke’s, the solution was borne out of critically assessing a hospital stay. While recovering from stomach surgery to remove a malignant tumor in 1999, Get Well Networks began from a hospital bed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. There, company founder, Michael O’Neil, realized that he was going crazy, unable to use a phone or check email, watching television on a small, snowy 13-inch television set with poor sound.

“It’s less about being bored and more about being unempowered,” O’Neil said of his frustrations.

Now, Get Well Networks is an industry leader, with 15 hospitals in the country using O’Neil’s system. Saint Luke’s will be just the second installation west of the Mississippi.

“They knew they wanted to do some interactive stuff at the bedside,” O’Neil recounted. “I flew out one day, and they’ve been great to work with. We’re thrilled to be there. It’s a beautiful unit.”

O’Neal credited Trimble with being the driving force behind the project.

“A lot of hospitals purchase technology, and to our company, the technology is the easy apart. The important part is the collaboration, to collaborate with the hospital and leverage the technology. At Saint Luke’s, we didn’t just wire new computers, we worked with them in an intellectual way in order to create an experience.”

So far, Trimble is upbeat with the results, which will be unveiled to the public on June 19.

“The value is that patients are more empowered. They will become more educated on their disease process have access to resources about those processes, and recommended treatments. When people have knowledge they are able to take accountability for their healthcare. They’re able to take control of their healthcare.”

With the network, patients will be able to view hospital sponsored educational materials (both video and text based) that are focused on their condition. They can search the web for relevant health information and personalize their healthcare experience by accessing their patient record or chatting with their doctor.

“It’s one of those things that you show people and everyone you show has an idea of how you can add to it.”

Trimble said that thanks to input, the hospital system now offers a daily devotional that can be hyperlinked to the patient’s individual faith. The system also contains a welcome message from the hospital that plays when the patient turns the system on for the first time. Still, Trimble guesses that families of the patient will use the system nearly just as much as the patient, either on a visit or to access their loved one’s condition which can be posted on an external website.

When completed in 2005, the $39 million expansion will be the largest in the hospital’s history


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