Doernbecher Patients Use Patient-Room-Based Computer System to Stay in Touch With Loved Ones

09/21/00    Portland, Ore.

Eva Grove Foundation, Intel Corporation and Others Help Create Link for Patients.

WHAT: Doernbecher pediatric cancer patients will show off a new computer system that helps alleviate the loneliness of extended hospital stays. Gary Jones, M.D., medical director of Doernbecher's Kenneth Ford Childhood Cancer Center will be available to interview, as well.
WHEN: 11 a.m. - noon, Thursday, Sept. 21
WHERE: Meet in the lobby of Doernbecher Children's Hospital, OHSU campus
EDITORS: To protect our patients, please do not send crews with cold symptoms, like runny noses or coughing.

Pediatric oncology patients at Oregon Health Sciences University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital now can use new computers in their rooms to see and talk with family at home, classmates in school and patients in other hospital rooms. The system is the first of its kind in the United States.

Thanks to a generous donation by several groups, Doernbecher's Kenneth Ford Childhood Cancer Center now has 20 state-of-the-art computer systems, including one in each of the inpatient rooms. The computer network links each of the 16 inpatient rooms with their families' and friends' computers at home, and provides patients with information about the school in Doernbecher, about medical staff and access to the Internet. Four more computers will soon be installed in the outpatient infusion rooms and in each of the hospital's two school offices. There also are four portable units that families and schools can use in their own settings to communicate with patients here at the hospital.

"I think the computers are neat. It's fun to be able to see someone instead of just talking to them," said Elizabeth Stovall, Doernbecher patient. The 12-year-old has acute myelocytic leukemia, or AML, and will be isolated in the hospital for several weeks while she undergoes a bone marrow transplant in October. Elizabeth is extremely close to her brother and sister who have to stay at home in Madras during that time. But thanks to this new computer system, she will feel as though she's there having dinner with them through the use of the video program and the computer screen.

The computer equipment and software were donated by the Eva Grove Foundation, while Intel Corporation donated the technical support to install the equipment and help get the project up and running. Other donations have come from Altiris eXpress, Grapevine Design , ICW International, Xerox Corporation and Cisco. The project is an ongoing collaboration between the Grove Foundation, Intel, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, the Doernbecher Foundation and the Portland Public School District. The coordinators of the new system are Gary Jones, M.D., medical director of Doernbecher's Kenneth Ford Childhood Cancer Center; Christopher Leland, Doernbecher Family Resource Center coordinator; and Debbie Howell, Portland Public Schools hospital teacher.

The computers offer the latest technology. Each has a wireless, ergonomic keyboard and mouse, along with a 15-inch, flat-panel monitor on a swinging arm. These features allow the computer to be used by patients in their hospital beds or by family members elsewhere in the room. This is particularly important when health care providers need to get to patients quickly and easily.

One of the most valuable benefits the new computers provide is allowing patients the ability to see the person they're talking to. Patients can use a video camera, Intel's Create and Share software, built-in speakers on the monitor, and a microphone in their room to communicate with family and classmates, who in turn can use one of four portable units that are outfitted with the same software and equipment. The cameras allow patients, and family members staying with the patient, a window into their homes and schools to see what life is like outside their hospital rooms. This interaction helps patients and their families feel more connected with other family members and friends throughout their hospital stay, making the transition back home smoother following discharge.

"It's amazing what a difference you can see in a child's health when they're able to stay in touch with their loved ones. Seeing their best friend on their computer can change their perspective on the whole day, which in turn gives them a healthier outlook," said Jones.

He adds, the computers offer much more than just a link with the outside. The network has its own Web site offering patients and their families a wealth of information, including physician-suggested links for disease information. Patients who can't leave their rooms will have access to information from Doernbecher's Family Resource Center. An e-mailed request to the center will result in information delivered directly to their room.

"We donated the computers and other network support because these children need a way to keep their spirits up and stay in touch with loved ones while they are recovering from life-threatening diseases," said Eva Grove, founder of the Grove Foundation. "We wanted to use our resources where they are most needed."

And who can forget the games. Children love to play computer games in order to learn and pass the time while in the hospital. Fortunately, each room offers them access to the Microsoft Network gaming zone.

Many patients spend months away from school, but while being treated, they can still learn, using videoconferencing to communicate with their class and through Internet access to the Portland Public School District's Web site where they can access the schedule of events, educational software and educational resources.

The ultimate goal is to expand this type of computer system to other patients who are in the hospital for long periods of time, such as heart transplant patients.