The Observer (a UK Sunday paper) informs us that the Internet takes a new step forward this week in Britain with the launch of Internet access for patients in hospitals. The service is being launched in seven hospitals including Kingston Hospital in Surrey, and my local hospital, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Monday, 11th November.
A bedside terminal, developed by Patientline, a private company which already provides bedside TV, radio and telephone services in more than 60 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, will be available to patients, consisting of a thin 12-inch screen with a small hand-held keyboard on the side. For the first time, patients will be able to read about their illness, log onto web-sites and email their friends whilst they're in their hospital bed, and of course keep up to date with developments at work (is there no escape???).
The service seems to be relatively cheap, costing 4 pence (around 2.5 US cents) a minute for access to the Internet. The terminals are being supplied free of charge though there seems to be a bit of a sting in the tail in that hospitals taking up the scheme have to sign 25-year contracts giving the supplier exclusive rights to provide and charge for the services.
The NHS sees the new 'entertainment systems' as a way of alleviating the patients' boredom while allowing staff to carry on with nursing duties. It is similar to the way LCD screens are fitted into the back of aeroplane chairs, helping travellers while away the hours of their long-haul flights.
This can only be the start of the use of such terminals within the NHS. No more boring waiting in the doctor's surgery: all the pain taken out of dentist's appointment as you surf the Net with your mouth open as the dentist deals with your fillings.
Unfortunately children, with the lowest boredom threshold, won't have these terminals fitted into their wards, as the technicians cannot guarantee that websites containing pornography or violence would be completely blocked.
Talking of pornography and violence, we've had a lot in the UK press this week on the behaviour of the British Royal Family, and particularly the late Princess Diana from the Princess's butler, Paul Burrell, who has been acquitted of stealing many of her possessions when the Queen remembered a conversation with the butler when he had told her that he was taking many of her things. We have had many surreal revelations this week in a 5-day 'kiss and tell' disclosure from the butler, which the Independent (a UK broadsheet summarised as the 50 things the week's revelations have told us about the monarchy (some of them may even be true...).
Whilst scrutinising this list it became clear that many of these incidents could well have benefited from the use of the Internet terminal outlined above, and I give you a selection of these to show the possibilities of the new technology:
- Apparently, while he was the Queen's butler, Mr Burrell would regularly watch television with the Queen. She would sit, and he would stand. Now when the feet get a little weary, and you can't cope with the 15th re-run of Morecombe and Wise or The Professionals (the Queen's favourite programs) you out with your Internet terminal, and in no time at all you're engrossed in the Web, though you do have to keep an ear open for the Royal Commands.
- Closer to the pornography, on her 35th birthday, it appears that Princess Di went visiting her alleged lover, Mr Hahn, a heart surgeon, dressed only in a fur coat and her sapphire and diamond earrings. Now one of these Internet terminals would act as a handy hot water bottle slipped under the fur coat, or even better, you could add a web cam to the device and give a harmless thrill to countless millions.
- Apparently Princess Di would also often telephone Mr Kahn at work, using the nom de plume of Mrs Armani, and on one occasion was particularly upset when he refused to break off from a heart operation to come to the phone. Today he could keep the patient happy with a new-fangled Internet terminal whilst he took a short break to sort out his personal life.
- One final example. It appears that relationships between the Princess and her butler sometimes got pretty strained, with communications restricted to yellow post-it notes. This is unacceptably low-tech and a couple of hospital Internet terminals would surely allow them to keep in contact without having to embarrass each other by resorting to verbal communications.
It is hard to keep your mind on the serious business of trying to improve the relationships between suppliers and consumers when the great and the good are allegedly behaving in such extraordinary ways, and broadcasting their behaviour all over the media, so I hope you'll excuse the flippant tone of this editorial.
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