More hospital Wi-Fi would foster connections among patients and families

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Like just about everyone working in Vancouver’s technology sector, Chris Ryan admits he’s plugged in and online in one way or another most of the hours that he’s awake.

That need to stay connected—which so many young professionals share today—made things especially stressful, Ryan recalled, when his father had an extended stay at Vancouver General Hospital earlier this year.

“I try to go every day or two, but it’s very difficult because I’m so busy,” he said in a phone interview. “I thought, ‘If I could just sit there for an hour and do a bit of work, that might be helpful to him, just me sitting there.’ ”

Ryan noted that with more business and web services moving to the cloud, it’s easier than ever for people to work from just about anywhere, provided there’s access to wireless Internet. But in most Vancouver hospitals, there isn’t.

A survey of Lower Mainland health facilities confirmed that the region’s larger hospitals are woefully lagging behind patients’ and family members’ demands for Wi-Fi.

Once-ubiquitous signs banning the use of cellphones have begun to disappear from hospitals. And data plans for mobile devices are cheaper than they once were. But even 4G networks remain slow compared to Wi-Fi, and a few hours on Netflix can exceed a cellphone’s data-plan limit pretty quickly. In addition, while some hospitals host a combination of computer terminals and Wi-Fi hot spots, access can be difficult or impossible for patients who lack mobility.

Brian Kerr chairs the board of directors for the Vancouver chapter of Cystic Fibrosis Canada. He told the Straight that the benefits of providing patients with Wi-Fi are especially evident in terms of families struggling with chronic diseases.

“When you have a child with CF, many of them, they have to travel from somewhere like Kamloops to Vancouver, and the stays can be anywhere from 17 days to even longer,” he said in a phone interview. “What happens to their schooling?”

Kerr noted that some CF wards have computer terminals. But infections are not uncommon and isolation requirements can complicate access. In those tricky situations, Kerr said, Wi-Fi can help children keep up with their schoolwork and even keep in touch with their teachers.

Staff with Metro Vancouver’s major health-care providers report that Wi-Fi is coming, but it’s not here yet.

Barry Rivelis is chief information officer for the Provincial Health Services Authority, which provides technology services for B.C. Children’s Hospital; Vancouver Coastal Health facilities, including VGH; and Providence Health Care locations such as St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital.

In a phone interview, Rivelis told the Straight that those facilities provide near-blanket Wi-Fi coverage for doctors and other service providers. But he conceded that there’s still a ways to go before patients enjoy the same level of access.

“We are looking at a ubiquitous patient service that we can provide throughout our facilities, and that is certainly a priority that we’re evaluating,” Rivelis said. “But it’s done in the context of our broader Wi-Fi needs, and the priority is on the provider, to make sure that they have access. And then if we can concurrently provide a patient service, that is something that we are looking at.”

For now, he continued, that means patients have computer terminals where they’re provided, cellular-network access, and Wi-Fi hot spots in locations such as coffee shops. (Some Children’s wards have coverage.)

Health facilities in the suburbs are doing a bit better. Speaking for the Fraser Health Authority, which runs the largest hospitals in Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster, Delta, and Abbotsford, spokesperson Tasleem Juma told the Straight that some locations already provide Wi-Fi for patients, and more are on the way.

“Royal Columbian Hospital [in New Westminster] and Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre [in Surrey] have Wi-Fi for patients, and at Burnaby Hospital they can use the computers in the resource library,” she said. “And now, with new buildings coming, Wi-Fi is part of those planning processes.” She pointed to patient Wi-Fi at the new critical-care tower at Surrey Memorial as the latest example.

Juma added that patients are telling Fraser Health that Wi-Fi is about staying in touch. “It’s things like checking email, Facebook, and their Twitter accounts,” she said. “Or, for example, in our maternal units, Skype and FaceTime for people who want to share news of their newborns. It’s about staying connected.”

Kerr similarly noted that the benefits of Wi-Fi extend beyond education to areas that might seem trivial but are actually just as important. It can help children in isolation units stay connected with other kids who are in the same situation, he explained.

“A number of them, they’re using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other,” Kerr said. “But like any other resource, you have to have access. And therein lies the problem. If you’re in a remote area where you live or you’re down here in Vancouver, it’s a matter of having those resources put into place.”

Comments (6) Add New Comment
lone voice
wifi in on our buses and now in our hospitals?! wifi makes one sick....it causes cancers....wake up!!!!
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Selling tinfoil
@lone voice: find a single rigorous paper that has declared any dangers from "wifi" and post the link. Last I checked not one paper or literature review by any group besides those who declare themselves "sensitive" to wireless found any links between the signals and cancer or other sensitivities. Look back far enough and you will find doom and gloom predictions about radio waves causing problems like cancer, then it was TV singles, now we have wifi as the culprit or even bluetooth.

The fun thing is that two friends of my partner proclaim themselves to be "sensitive" to wifi & bluetooth so for their edification we have a couple of sets of dummy wires that appear to connect wireless speakers with actual wires. We even stick an Ethernet cable in the laptop that terminates under the sofa in a dead router while the wireless connection keeps running: it helps to kill the lights on your wireless router to maintain the fiction. They both wax poetic about how we are willing to "go wired" when they visit but I just want to call their bullshit every time I see them. To be very slightly fair they do not have wireless at home and use wired hands free devices with their "dumb" phones but to be grossly unfair they also complain pretty much everywhere we go that they can "feel" the wifi around them yet never when the router is a few feet away.
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the pope
In this day and age "wifi" should be available everywhere. Since we`re on the subject of hospitals;How about getting free parking for patients and their immediate family..It is a major Financial Hardship especially when someone lives paycheque to paycheque....Or at least make it affordable,a loonie per hour instead of Close to $ 5.00,sure would go a long way in helping out...Maybe the "STRAIGHT"could look into this matter.Cheers...
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Jack
Putting vulnerable patients under WiFi microwave radiation 24/7 is a stupid idea. The photo on this article with the iPad against the child's belly is a big mistake, not even recommended by the manufacturer.
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Padma
Putting wifi in hospitals is subjecting vulnerable patients to yet another layer of microwave radiation. A tablet has five antennas and as Jack mentions, holding it close to the body with that orientation increases the radiation from the device.

We naively believe that experimenting with wifi routers in schools, libraries, cafes, hotspots, in our homes, wifi from devices themselves along with other sources of microwave radiation and with cellphone tower radiation and cordless telephones will have no effect on our health. We thought the same of DDT, asbestos and smoking. Will we learn this time? I don't think so.
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Gecko
My son has CF. As of this date he still goes to children's hospital which does have wifi for its in patients. Next year my son will be going to VGH since he will have graduated to the adult CF clinic. When he gets hospitalized it is usually for a minimum if 2 weeks. He misses a lot of school never mind the fact that his family lives a 12 hr drive away. With him being classified as an adult, his parents will no longer be able to stay with him on these hospital stays.. Having wifi accessible to in patients is a necessity, not a luxury. I know myself being an adult and should I be stuck in a room 24-7 for 2 weeks or more, without family, would not help my mental state, therefore not help my physical state.. Imagine if this was a child or young adult. I think it would be unbearable.
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