If the public still sees hospitals as mostly stark and sterile places, the film industry isn't looking to dispel the notion anytime soon.
A new film titled "Assisted Living" was shot at an actual facility, part of Masonic Homes of Kentucky in Louisville, mostly because its long hallways and fluorescent lighting gave the setting more of a "hospitallike feel," says Elliott Greenebaum, writer, director and producer. Greenebaum says he wanted to convey to "viewers a sense of entrapment" that the main character feels.
He says that couldn't have been achieved in newer hospitals, with their "indoor swimming pools, flowers, carpet, light pouring through the windows." The Ma-sonic Homes facility "lends itself to the emotional content," he says.
The movie blends a fictional tale about a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease with the real residents and staff serving as the film's backdrop. The main character longs for a visit from her son, Greenebaum says. When it doesn't happen, she begins to confuse a worker-a janitor at the facility "who spends his days smoking pot," according to one synopsis-for her son. A relationship ensues.
"The film is about taking emotional responsibility for other people," he says.
Like most dramas, the story has more to do with the facility's inhabitants than their surroundings. And the facility's drab features have little to do with the residents' happiness. He says, "The thing that separates good care from bad care had less to do with the bureaucracy involved than it had to do with the specific relationships between staff members and the residents-whether staff had an emotional attachment to them."
Greenebaum, 27, who grew up next to a nursing home, says he wanted the film to be as realistic as possible. "Getting old is bad. I don't want to paint a picture of bliss."
The film, Greenebaum's feature-length debut, is set to open in New York and Washington next February. The movie has already gotten some buzz at several film festivals as well as being reviewed by IndieWire.com and Variety.
Cells without limits
With cell phone bans long in effect in hospitals across the country, you might wonder why Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston gives every intern a cell phone and encourages them to carry them into the hospital's patient-care areas.
"We recognized that doctors are fundamentally mobile people," says John Halamka, chief information officer of both Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel's parent, CareGroup Health System, Boston. Wireless technology actually improves productivity, CareGroup has found.
As cell phones and wireless Internet play greater roles in improving patient care, many medical experts are beginning to question the conventional wisdom about banning cell phones in hospitals. A January 2001 Mayo Clinic study found that in some cases, older mobile phones that used analog technology interfered with radio waves from medical devices such as pacemakers and ventilators. However, newer phones use digital technology that doesn't affect medical equipment and medical devices often have shielding to protect them from interference.
Last year, the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, which represents 117 area hospitals, conducted a survey with anecdotal incidents of equipment failure related to electromagnetic interference, but none of the cases could be duplicated.
At Beth Israel, doctors must use the wireless devices at least 3 feet from patients and the technology must be approved, Halamka says. "You can't bring in a brick phone like they used to make."
For the same reason, patients and their families can use their cell phones only in lobbies and waiting rooms because of the difficulty of "policing what device people would walk in with," although he says most modern digital cell phones would probably be acceptable.
Halamka says academic medical centers are more apt to question policies and conduct studies. Meanwhile, he says, "a lot of community hospitals are saying, `We've heard this is bad, so we're banning it.' "
So far, the hospital has recorded no ill effects from allowing cell phones, hand-held computers and similar wireless devices. "Wireless is a way of life for us," he says.
Most physicians who "blog" (for the uninitiated, that means fill a Web site with running commentary) fall into two categories: They either assiduously avoid clinical content and use their blogs as psychological steam vents, or present Internet smorgasbords of medical observations.
Michael Ostrovsky and colleague Paul Geldard, however, see a higher calling for the readily accessible Web technology. The co-editors of a year-old blog, EchoJournal.org, are sponsoring a contest for the best purely clinical sites. They have 24 blogs competing already with nominations not scheduled to close until Dec. 29.
"Personally, I'm more interested in improving clinical blogs, rather than opinion pieces," says Ostrovsky, 34, a cardiac anesthesiologist at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif. Os-trovsky met Geldard when they both were working on a fellowship in cardiac anesthesiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, which Ostrovsky completed last summer. Geldard practices in Melbourne, Australia.
"I think it's the future of medical blogs," Ostrovsky says. "They will help physicians report on their cases or enable physicians to receive information from other physicians."
The competition will be in six categories: best medical blog, best new medical blog (established in 2004), best clinical sciences blog, best basic biological sciences blog, best health policies/ethics blog and best medical technologies blog.
Winners will be awarded a copy of the Atlas of Human Anatomy with CD-ROM.