Issue 13 / 11 April 2011

Bingo! How hospitals speed recovery

HOSPITALS are revered citadels of modern health care but, for patients, they can seem remote and isolated from the busy inclusiveness of community health.

While we are bombarded with imposing media images of high-tech wizardry and heartwarming accounts of modern medical miracles, the endemic malaise of hospital life is rarely featured.

It is patently obvious to those who busy themselves in the business of health care delivery that hospitals can be reservoirs of patient boredom, particularly in general adult wards.

Many a patient who has endured a reasonably protracted hospital stay, when asked to comment on their experience, will speak of its regimented environment, stripping them of individuality and autonomy. But overriding all is usually an enduring blight of boredom.

And this, apparently, is no trivial matter. There is considerable evidence that boredom may actually impede patient recovery. A report of the British Medical Association, titled “The psychological and social needs of patients”, suggests that hospital patients should have access to recreational activities in order to overcome the debilitating effects of boredom. The report included evidence that art and humanities programs do more than just help beat the boredom of a hospital stay — they can produce positive changes in clinical outcomes, reduce drug consumption, shorten length of stay and improve psychological wellbeing.

In Australia, we know this. In fact, it is not often that Australian health is judged to be a world leader in its activities; but when it comes to programs providing hospital entertainment, these have actually been in place in children’s hospitals here for some time.

Children’s hospitals cater to the educational needs of their young patients, and it seems only natural that these should morph into more comprehensive, fun-filled programs such as those offered by the iconic Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Remarkably, at the other end of the age spectrum, we now see small, sentient robots calling bingo and generally interacting with bemused nursing home residents.

Just as the laptop computer ― once famously touted by former prime minister Kevin Rudd as the “toolbox of the 21st century” ― has made its way into many school classrooms so, too, have the tentacles of social media reached into the wards of our hospitals.

Livewire, a subsidiary of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, is helping young patients with serious illness and disability to connect with others facing similar challenges. Livewire hosts and moderators are trained in adolescent health and are online 7 days a week to ensure that it remains a supportive and fun place to be.

We may still have a way to go in general adult hospital wards, but it seems the Brits have much to learn from Australian initiatives, which have ingeniously tapped into the preferred communication model of our tech-savvy young.

The future is clear! Despite the complaints of swelling bureaucracies, it seems we must add another to the ranks of hospital administrative hierarchies ― Director of Hospital Entertainment, charged with overseeing the holistic wellbeing of all patients.

Dr Martin Van Der Weyden is emeritus editor of the Medical Journal of Australia.

Posted 11 April 2011

One thought on “Martin Van Der Weyden: From the sidelines

  1. bryan Walpole says:

    Oh yes Martin, and how well we recall what a card you were at heam/onc meetings and grand rounds at the Alfred in the ’80s/’90s. We need not so much a director of humour, as a coach to bring the warmth and joy back to the ward, instead of the dullness of EBM, risk management, MET calls…. well said mate

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