February 14, 2003

Children’s Hospital offers unique online community for patients

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The interactive Web site will be available at VCH for children to learn, make friends, and play games.

Children’s Hospital offers unique online community for patients

Children at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital can now use their bedside computers to join a new online community that fosters an environment where children can speak openly and honestly with peers about their illnesses and to provide encouragement to each other.

Thanks in part to a technology opportunities grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Vanderbilt’s bedside computer program “Go Fetch” has teamed up with a California company to become part of a worldwide Web community for children with illnesses or disabilities.

The three-year, $426,000 grant was awarded to PatchWorx, Inc. to partner with four sites throughout the United States to help incorporate www.patchworx.org into their programs. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital (VCH), Riley Hospital for Children, and the Ronald McDonald Houses in Burlington, Vt., and Stanford, Calif., were selected by PatchWorx to partner and expand their existing technology.

Vanderbilt was chosen because of its innovative bedside computer program that allows children throughout the hospital access to a computer.

A gift from the Jack C. Massey Foundation, Waitt Family Foundation and several other donors, allowed VCH to place a total of 32 computer workstations throughout VCH, 23 of them on specially designed carts by Ergotron, Inc.

The carts are designed to adjust and accommodate patients at every stage of treatment and recovery, such as those who can’t sit up in bed. Each of the carts contains a lightweight LCD “flat panel” monitor, video camera, keyboard, mouse, joystick and inkjet printer. There are four desktop computers at the Ronald McDonald House.

With the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt under construction and expected to open within the upcoming year, VCH officials want to expand the bedside computer project by more than 150 computers.

The computers do more than keep the children entertained. With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, children and their parents e-mail friends, play computer games, surf the Web, watch DVDs, and do school work, all from the comfort of their hospital bed.

Video cameras on each computer allow children to videoconference, or allow their parents to monitor their children from home or work.

With the integration of PatchWorx and GoFetch, children will now be able to safely and securely talk to other children throughout the world who may be facing similar issues relate to their illness or disability.

“We’re so excited to be able to team up with PatchWorx,” explained Angie Paulk, a child life specialist who oversees GoFetch. “Their resources, and the safe and secure Web site, will allow our children to integrate with a much broader community.”

The PatchWorx Web site is available at no cost and can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. The chat room is open at specific times, and always monitored by a trained moderator. Other sections of the site, such as the message boards, Show N’Tell, games, and Ask Patches are open continuously.

Under the evolving partnership between VCH and PatchWorx, VCH will identify patients who will benefit from joining PatchWorx, facilitate parental permission, monitor participation, help recruit adult volunteers and assist PatchWorx with the evaluation of the program. VCH will help PatchWorx create a “Circle of Support Across America.”

“Expanding the access of our Web site to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital community allows us to reach more youngsters who feel isolated and alone. We break down the barriers of distance and illness to help patients develop positive coping skills, find information and become more proactive in their own care,” said Teresa Middleton, PatchWorx president.

One PatchWorx member wrote, “I am grateful that I have a place to come where people understand and where I don’t have to worry about my differences being so obvious. I don’t know what I would have done this past year, or now, without this place.”

PatchWorx, Inc. is a non-profit, Web-based online community for young people who are feeling isolated due to a serious illness or disability. The Web site and community provide a safe, secure and fun place for kids to share stories and ideas, to learn from each other, and to make friends with common interests.

For additional information on PatchWorx, e-mail inquiries to patchworx@patchworx.org or contact Teresa Middleton or Lori Telson at 650-859-3382.