When being away from work makes you sick …

In the near future, Toronto’s University Health Network might become the infirmary of choice for ailing Type A’s who can’t bear to be away from their work. The UHN — Princess Margaret, Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals — is considering offering Internet access to its patients.

Before

that happens, though, the organization will have to decide how and where to provide access, as well as who will do it — and who will pay for it.

“”We’re not very far down the road, really,”” says Ken Lawrence, manager of networks and telephony for the UHN. “”We’re just looking at options and discussing them. We’re looking at what we can do — and what can we afford to do — and this is one thing that people think patients really want.””

The UHN has been in discussions with wireless hotspot provider SpotNik, and is looking at options such as providing Net access using the patient TV system or touch-screen kiosks.

The latter two are attractive options, says Lawrence — patients don’t have to bring their own laptops, which could disappear. But wireless is a much more likely choice than wired access, which would require a drop to every room.

Wireless would allow for more flexibility at a lower cost, but it has its own problems. There are areas where you can’t do wireless, such as around radiation equipment. “”At Princess Margaret, where we’re doing radiation therapy, there are thick lead-lined walls, so you can’t do wireless there,”” he says.

Paul King, director of technology at Regina-based Hospitality Network, says despite some of the challenges, wireless is the best choice for hospitals. The network, which recently announced a partnership with WiFi hotspot provider FatPort Corp. of Vancouver, is an interactive television and telephone service provider focusing on communications and entertainment for the health care industry in Canada. Under the Hospitality Network/FatPort model, the team would set up the system and the hospital would offer it to patients on a per-day rate, the way cable TV service is offered.

Whether there is sufficient demand for Internet access to pay for itself at hospitals is another story. The UHN’s Lawrence isn’t convinced, but King sees the demand. Patients tied up in hospital for several days unexpectedly with no access to the Net and no way of continuing to do their jobs can create quite a stir — like one who King says recently had a phone company install an ADSL line in his room without the hospital’s knowledge.

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