Monday, April 25, 2005

Hospital e-cards

The local hospitals have introduced a commendable use of technology that helps people express care and concern for their hospitalized friends and loved ones. From the hospital website it is possible to send an e-card to a patient. The e-card is printed out and then hand-delivered, usually by a volunteer, and usually within 24 hours.

In an age when insurance companies and their case management services limit the length of a hospital stay, or abruptly require the transfer of the patient to other institutions providing different levels of care, it is increasingly difficult to predict that a patient will still be in the same hospital when a mailed card arrives. E-cards, on the other hand, make it possible for a tangible and attractive expression of support to arrive at a person's bedside much more quickly than if the friend were to mail it through the postal service.

Unlike those animated and noisy e-cards internet users have been mailing to each other for years, the hospital e-cards do not require the recipient to have downloaded any software, or to have a computer, or even to have an email address. The sender designs and writes the card on a website, the hospital's own equipment produces the physical card at the hospital, and a human being hand-delivers the card.

Local hospital systems providing this service include the West Penn Allegheny Health System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospitals. They each allow the sender to select a picture to feature on the e-card, to choose the name of the proper hospital from a drop-down list, and to compose one's own message for the card.

I have noticed minor differences in the format of the resulting cards. The UPMC card I saw looked like a full-page email to the address of the office where it was printed, and had my chosen artwork in the top half of the page with my message printed in the lower half. The West Penn card I saw was quarter-folded with my chosen artwork on the front, the message inside hand-signed with my name by a volunteer, and the finished card sealed in a hand-addressed envelope. Each card I have sent, regardless of the format, was very well-received and appreciated by the patient.

Both systems sensibly give a warning to the sender not to send confidential messages because they might be read by someone other than the patient in the course of printing and delivery.

I praise the hospitals who have made this simple use of technology available to their patients and to the network of family and friends who are ready and eager to support the healing of their loved ones.

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