Sacramento hospitals let patients connect with Wi-Fi

Colin Autry, who is undergoing months of chemo for leukemia in isolation, uses the wireless Internet at Kaiser Permanente’s Roseville hospital as his mother, Pushpa Autry, waits nearby.

Colin Autry, a 17-year-old cancer patient from Elk Grove, likened it to a life of solitary confinement, cocooned in a hospital room and cut off from the usual life of a high school senior – his cell phone and television screen the only connections to friends and the outside world.

“When they told me I was going to be in an isolation room for six to eight months, that scared me pretty good,” said Autry, who began his long hospital stay in October at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center.

But earlier this month, Kaiser ushered in the digital age for patients at its Roseville campus, allowing Autry to regain one important part of a typical teenager’s life: wireless Internet.

While his disease has wrought havoc with his life, Autry can again experience the joys of scrolling through Facebook updates. His fingers clack away for online chats, his time is occupied by the latest gossip at school streamed into his hospital room.

Wireless Internet has become a part of everyday life – it’s in our homes, workplaces, airports and coffee shops. But hospitals are relative newcomers in providing the now-ubiquitous technology.

“What we’re seeing now is an explosion of this,” said Bache Perry, a consultant assigned to Kaiser’s network services.

“Being able to provide this to the patient eases the stress of staying in a hospital for a long period of time,” he said.

Kaiser isn’t the first in the area to beam Wi-Fi signals into patients’ rooms. Sutter hospitals and the UC Davis Medical Center said their wireless services went online a few years ago.

Last fall, Mercy began providing Wi-Fi at its Folsom hospital.

“It has become an expectation to be connected,” said Randy Castillo, the hospital’s vice president of ancillary and support services. “You have Wi–Fi when you go to Starbucks, McDonald’s, airports – but not too many hospitals.”

For years, doctors and nurses had access to wireless signals to access electronic medical records. But because of security issues, hospitals were cautious about opening up their airwaves in patient areas.

Indeed, most hospitals have two wireless networks – one for protected data and the other for public use – as a firewall against any potential security breaches.

Quality issues have also been a concern, said Perry, the Kaiser consultant, because two signals occupying the same airspace could interfere with each other.

Other area hospitals still without Wi-Fi access are hoping to roll out the service soon.

For Autry, who was diagnosed with leukemia in October, it couldn’t come soon enough.

“I went from a normal life to being locked up in a hospital room,” he said. “It isn’t something you acclimate to immediately. I’m missing my senior year of high school.

“I really count on my friends to keep me updated,” he said.

With his laptop, he’s been able to get virtual visits from his grandmother who lives in Raleigh, N.C., through a video camera and Skype. Soon, he hopes to spend time – via the Internet – with his sheepdog Klondike, who is being cared for by his sister in Washington state.

“I feel trapped sometimes,” he said.

“It was so hard coming in,” said his mother, Pushpa, a Kaiser therapist. “Oh my God, solitary confinement – how are we going to do this?”

She got her son a Kindle electronic reader for Christmas – on which he’s reading the latest book from Stephen Colbert.

“I wish he spent more time on that” – less time on the Internet, she said – “but he’s the one who’s going through chemo.”