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Tech made hospital stay a bit more tolerable

I wasn’t planning to write a column about Redwood City’s Sequoia Hospital (now owned by Dignity Health), but thanks to an intestinal blockage, I wound up there from the night of March 20 through March 23.

I can’t begin to comment on all the technology at this or any other hospital. Most medical devices are way outside my expertise. But there were some tech products that I could comprehend, like the computer in my room that the nurses used to check and update my chart, and the very high-tech intravenous machine that automatically notified the nursing staff when the fluids were running low or if there was air in the line. One reason I can’t forget that machine is because of the loud alarms it would emit from time to time.

As a patient, my own patience was improved because of the hospital’s guest Wi-Fi network that enabled me to use my laptop throughout the stay. Most of the time there was enough bandwidth to stream video, so my wife Patti — who slept on a cot in my room — and I could watch multiple episodes of Tina Fey’s new Netflix comedy series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” I’m not saying that Wi-Fi made my hospital stay pleasant — there’s nothing pleasant about having an IV in your arm and a tube down your throat — but it made it a lot more tolerable.

And, unlike the last time I had to stay in a hospital, about a decade ago, there were no rules prohibiting the use of cellphones, so I was as connected with colleagues and friends as I wanted to be.

To aid in my recovery I did a lot of walking around the hospital and grounds — sometimes dragging the IV stand with me. On my last day, I spent some time outside but wanted to be “on call” in case my doctor showed up, so I just gave my cellphone number to the nurse. It’s common for hospitals to have ways to page medical staff, but now they can also “page” patients.

And speaking of paging, gone were those PA announcements you typically hear at hospitals. Instead of pages blaring through speakers that every patient and staffer have to hear, the staff wore Vocera Communication badges so they could communicate with other staff. As my nurse worked in my room, I would hear a chime followed by a natural-sounding, computer-generated voice asking her if she would accept a call.

To take the call all she had to do was accept it with her voice, and the device’s voice recognition system initiated a two-way call between her and the other staffer. There was no need to touch the device or press any keys. Staff can also initiate calls using SIRI-like voice commands and simply say the name of the person they wish to reach.

Vocera uses the hospital’s Wi-Fi network, so there’s no need for a separate radio system, and it works throughout the facility.

Vocera, a San Francisco-based company, also makes apps for smartphones and tablets that enable staff to communicate using off-the-shelf Android or iOS smartphones or tablets within a hospital or when out in the field. The apps allow for confidential texting that is compliant with federal (HIPPA) medical privacy laws. The suite of apps supports both shared and personal(BYOD — “bring your own device”) devices that provide secure texting and calling along with alert systems based on the user’s location.

Because I was connected while in the hospital, I was able to sign into Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s patient portal to bring up my lab work from their Urgent Care department, which referred me to the hospital. I could also find historical data about previous conditions and test results that the medical staff here needed to know about. Dignity Health also has an online patient portal, as I learned by email shortly after being admitted. Now that I’m out of the hospital, I can see the results of all the lab work during my stay.

I hope I never again have to spend three days at a hospital but — since I had to — it’s nice that the staff and I were well connected. That technology, along with a great doctors and a terrific nursing and support staff, helped get me through a very trying time.