Technology keeps children connected

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Children's Hospital is among the most wired in the country, and that technology extends many kinds of lifelines for young patients.

Kids have a routine -- hanging out with friends, playing video games, watching TV and movies -- that's disrupted by a hospital stay, especially if it turns out be a long one. But the new hospital offers an array of entertainment choices -- from movies and games to Internet access -- that will keep them connected to familiar things.

Most of the new hospital's rooms are private and provide more freedom to take advantage of in-room entertainment.

Each room has a flat panel TV screen. Patients can choose from a selection of Comcast's On Demand movies, with kid-friendly programming targeted to either young or teen audiences. Pillow speakers hold the TV controller and the nurse call button. The screen can be moved and angled for viewing from the bed or from a chair.

The TVs have educational and therapeutic channels, too. Families can watch tutorials that show them how to change a dressing or insert a tube, for example. A relaxation channel features calming music and scenery to help with stress relief or pain management.

There also are Nintendo game controllers that can be signed out, turning the TV into a kid-friendly gaming experience.

In addition, there will be carts circulating in patient areas with other games and platforms -- Wii, PlayStation 2 and 3. Patients can bring their favorites from home or play the ones that come with the carts. The carts are provided by the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, which has several programs designed to help children and families cope with illness and hospitalization through entertainment and educational resources. The new hospital will have 14 carts.

There are 12 brightly colored game kiosks throughout the building, which have painting and drawing games for kids to play.

Families can borrow portable DVD players and DVDs, or they can bring their own movies from home.

The hospital has a laptop loan program. Children can sign out laptops and connect with friends by e-mail, Instant Message or chat, and keep up with schoolwork remotely. Children's is equipped with free Wi-Fi, so patients can bring their own laptops in and connect to the Internet.

"A laptop can be a pretty entertaining and invaluable resource," says Beth Lewis, the hospital's director of family service and resources.

In addition, the Eat'n Park Atrium on the sixth floor includes a full-size movie screen with a standard movie theater digital projection system. Patients and families can gather in groups for movie nights or watch sporting events or live stage performances.

There are windows looking down onto the movie screen from the seventh, eighth and ninth floors, where patients who are in isolation can also watch the movies. The audio is carried to the upper floors by speakers.

These kinds of recreational resources for patients are much more than icing on the cake. "It seeks to create normalcy in a very abnormal situation for children," Ms. Lewis says.

There's a healing aspect to recreation and distraction, says Denise Esposto, manager of the Children's Hospital Child Life Department. "Keeping the patient busy or giving them familiar items or things they like to do really helps to make the time go faster, and makes the experience a little more manageable."

Technology also plays an important role in maintaining some of their home-and-school routine. "It's a very isolating experience when a child is in the hospital," Ms. Esposto says. "Having these opportunities to even virtually have their peer group at their fingertips is very helpful in the healing process."


Adrian McCoy can be reached at 412-263-1865 or amccoy@post-gazette.com.


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