Education videos, games, food at patient's fingertips

Bedside communication system boosts efficiency

Televisions are standard equipment in recovery areas to help patients and their family members pass time and reduce anxiety. New technology now gives the same television the capability to improve patient education, give patients control over their environment, and improve use of nurses' time.

A standard television, a small control box, a remote control, and pillow speaker phones are all that is needed to turn bedside communications systems into an interactive patient education and patient communications tool.

Bedside patient communications systems are making their way into outpatient surgery programs. "We began installation of our system a year ago, but it has only been in the past couple of months that the system has been installed in our outpatient surgery center, says Barbara Hertzler, chief operating officer and executive vice president of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, MI. "Our system gives patients access to the Internet and to e-mail from their bedside, but this service appears to be used more by inpatients than by outpatients, she says. Information on the system, GetWellNetwork in Bethesda, MD, can be accessed at

Bedside communications systems typically include access to entertainment including movies, local television, games, patient education videos, Internet, ancillary services such as housekeeping or food services and, in some cases, the ability to complete surveys or research clinical material, provided by the facility, says Hertzler. "We've also downloaded information on our health care team with staff photos and biographies so that patients know who is providing their care, she says. Other items that can be added to a system to personalize it include an orientation to the facility, including locations of gift shops, ATMs, cafeterias, and other local information, Hertzler adds.

Nurses appreciate a bedside communication system because it frees their time to focus on patient care activities, says Dennis Roth, RN, MSN, surgicenter educator at Luther Midelfort Hospital in Eau Claire, WI. "We have 35 patient rooms in our surgicenter, and we have an interactive communications system in each room, he says. Patient education is a key use of the system by nurses. Information on the system, Skylight Healthcare System in San Diego, can be accessed at

The staff have access to teaching videos through the system, so a nurse accesses the menu and selects the video that is appropriate for the patient, he says. The nurse does not have to stay in the room while the patient watches the video, but instead returns after the video is over to answer questions and review key material if necessary, he explains.

"There are several benefits to using this system for patient education, says Roth. The previous education process required nurses to spend time locating the proper patient education video, taking it to the patient's room, rewinding tapes, and setting the video to the proper place to start, he says. "Now, everything is in the patient's room, so there is less time and labor involved to find the video on the system and play it, Roth says. Once the patients and families are taught how to use the system, the video can be watched as many times as they want, he says.

Time studies conducted at Luther Midelfort showed that nurses typically spent between 12 and 15 minutes to find and set up videos for patients prior to the bedside communications system. "We have not conducted a follow-up study for the new system yet, but I would estimate that we've cut the time required by seven to eight minutes, he adds. This time savings is significant when you consider that the nurses at Roth's center show about 600 videos per month, he points out.

This process also eliminates the conflicts that arose when multiple patients needed to view the same video at the same time, says Roth. "We'd have multiple copies of some videos, but there were times when patients had to wait until another patient finished viewing the information, he says.

Give patients control over environment

While Hertzler knew that the entertainment and patient education portions of the system would be well used in the outpatient surgery center, she is surprised at how often patients use the environmental control aspect of the system.

"Patients can contact ancillary departments such as maintenance, food services, and housekeeping from their bedside, she explains. "Inpatients use this service often, but I didn't expect outpatients to use it as often as they do. Patients can send a message to other departments if they need extra blankets or pillows, if the temperature in their room is too cold or too hot, or if they want something to eat or drink, she explains.

The environmental control feature takes nurses out of the "middleman position, Hertzler says. "One of nurses' biggest complaints is the time it takes to get in touch with other departments with patient requests, she says. Not only does it save time for nurses when the patient makes the contact, but it reduces conflicts between departments, she says. "When nurses are constantly calling other departments to ask for food, blankets, or change in room temperature, it puts the nurses in a confrontational position, especially if they have to call several times, she explains.

Patients and family members like the ability to contact ancillary departments directly because it gives them more control over their experience, says Roth. "They don't feel dependent on others to make their requests, he says.

Installing a patient bedside communication system does require an investment of money and time, points out Hertzler. The actual cost depends on the size and age of your facility, which determines the extent of your need for new wires and cables, and whether you are going to upgrade your current televisions. "We did purchase all new televisions, but it isn't necessary for everyone, she says.

On average, hospitals invest less than $1,000 a year per bed to license the GetWellNetwork system, according to a GetWellNetwork spokesperson. This figure can vary fairly dramatically depending on the number of patient rooms, the type of infrastructure already in place, and the amount of content the hospital wishes to add to the system.

One tip that Hertzler offers for anyone considering a bedside communications system is to make sure you accurately assess your buildings. "We did not do the best infrastructure assessment, and it resulted in time and expense that we didn't anticipate, she says. Older buildings do require additional wiring because their existing capability may not support the technology, Hertzler adds.

Be sure to make sure that the system is easy to navigate, suggests Roth. The menu should be easy to understand and should require just a few clicks of the remote or a keystroke on the keyboard, he says. "Also, make sure that it is simple to add patient education videos to the system, Roth says. At the same time, the menu should be easy to update to reflect new videos, he says.

Staff training on the system was simple, says Roth. "The training session took between 15 and 20 minutes with staff members going into an unoccupied patient room to learn how to use the system, he says. "Because nurses tend to be kinesthetic learners, we always had one room available for training when we first implemented the system.

After nurses received their initial orientation to the system, they were able to go into the rooms to play with the system on their own, he points out. "Being able to play with the remote and move through the menus ourselves was the most effective part of the training, he adds.

A bedside patient communication system improves overall customer service, Hertzler says. "We are able to immediately address patient concerns and educational needs, and patients have the ability to control their own environment, she says.


For more information about patient bedside communications systems, contact:

  • Barbara Hertzler, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, 44405 Woodward Ave., Pontiac, MI 48341. Telephone: (248) 858-6141. E-mail:
  • Dennis Roth, RN, MSN, Surgicenter Educator, Luther Midelfort Hospital, 1221 Whipple St., P.O. Box 4105, Eau Claire, WI 54702-4105. Telephone: (715) 838-5528. E-mail: