September 15, 2000

Computers coming to patient bedsides in Children’s Hospital

Featured Image

Cystic fibrosis patient Aaron Watson, 17, uses a computer in the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital schoolroom. VCH will soon have computers to use in patient rooms through Computers-4-Children. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Computers coming to patient bedsides in Children's Hospital

A high-tech, family-centered project, to be implemented on a limited basis in the current Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in 2001, will introduce computers into the everyday lives of hospitalized children and their families.

The Computers-4-Children project, funded mostly by the Ted Waitt Family Foundation, is a far-reaching program that is planned to be fully implemented in the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The hospital is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in 2003.

Waitt is the founder of Gateway Computers. The pilot phase of the program will last three years. The Jack C. Massey Foundation has also provided funding.

“The major objective of this project is to enhance the lives of hospitalized children and their families,” said Janet Cross, director of Child Life for VCH. “The program will make the hospital stay more like home. Many of our patients have computer access as their main mode of communication. We hope this will reduce the anxiety created by separation from friends and family.”

The plan will allow children and their families access to a personal computer and PC camera technology in some patient rooms and in some common areas of the hospital. Computers will also be available in the infusion rooms and selected outpatient care areas. The patient room computers will be attached to special mobile carts, each containing a lightweight LCD “flat panel” monitor, a keyboard, mouse, joystick and inkjet printer. The carts are designed to adjust and accommodate patients with special needs, such as those who can’t sit up in bed.

Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital will become one of a few hospitals in the country to develop its own patient and family-focused computer program.

“Other hospitals have a plug-in system, one that’s been developed elsewhere. Vanderbilt’s program is being built from the inside out,” said Cathy Turnley, Assistant Director of Information Management at VUMC.

Each computer will be equipped with a PC video camera and videoconferencing software.

“We hope this will help reduce anxiety for patients and families when they can’t be here, and give the opportunity for other family members and friends to interact with their patient and family,” Cross said.

The computers will also allow patients and their families to stay in touch with friends and family members through e-mail updates directly from the patient’s room.

“It may cut down on telephone calls and decrease interruptions,” Cross said. “It will also provide flexibility. Parents can write e-mails to their family and friends at 2 a.m. when it’s quiet and their child is sleeping, if that’s the best time for them to sit down at the computer.”

The new hospital will also have at least one business center equipped with computers where parents can maintain their professional lives while staying with a sick child at the hospital. “Many parents can do some necessary work for their jobs from the hospital if they just have the tools,” Turnley said.

In addition to providing computers in patients’ rooms, the proposal includes providing access to computers and video cameras at the Nashville Ronald McDonald House, particularly in suites reserved for post-myelosuppression patients, and in the Family Resource Center.

“The use of computers will enhance the lives of hospitalized children and their families by providing them with the additional tools needed to obtain information related to their hospitalization and illness,” Turnley said. “Access to computers can also lessen the traumatic impact that hospitalization and illness have on a child’s social and academic skills,” she said.

The new computer program will also help patients and families have more opportunities to assimilate and be active participants in the broader community. Children may have monitored access through the World Wide Web to libraries, museums and zoos. Students in elementary and secondary schools and colleges, as well as other community resources such as businesses or libraries, may want to form computer-linked partnerships with Children’s Hospital.

Eventually, the computers will also have patient information software with information about the hospital and its services. The hospital’s Family and Pediatric Advisory Councils have been involved in deciding what information is most needed on this site. Members of the planning group visited University of Chicago Children’s Hospital, which has a similar program, for ideas.

One of the most important functions of the computer program will be allowing patients and their families access to additional resources about the patient’s condition, management and recovery.

Much of that information is currently provided in the Family Resource Center, which provides information to augment the medical teams’ efforts to educate patients and their families. The center works closely with VCH faculty and staff to select and review appropriate medical information.

The Family Resource Center will be directly involved in developing these additional computer materials as the program is pulled together.

“The focus is on providing engaging, relevant and meaningful content online for children and families with the intention of motivating them to use technology as an educational tool,” said Barbara Ramsey, director of the Family Resource Center. “There will be different ways to appropriate and transform the technology to meet the needs of specific children and their families. This is an opportunity for the medical team and families to experiment, test and learn from their experiences with different program components. Families will be both consumers and creators of the program content.”

A Family Resource Center website is currently under development. Some of the center’s educational material will be online and will be organized according to illnesses and conditions and various issues, which confront families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Ramsey said that only Internet sites that have been reviewed and approved will be available for patients and their families. Special software will be utilized to screen out those sites that have not been specifically approved.

Helping patients with schoolwork in the VCH accredited school program is another function of the Computers-4-Children program, Cross said. Age-appropriate software will be made available to patients to help with the completion of homework assignments.

Patients may also be able to keep in touch with teachers and class curriculum through the use of computers.

“Schoolwork is much easier when there’s ongoing communication with teachers and classmates,” Cross said.