About… The PatientLine Scam

I have been meaning to write this for a while, both from when I was having my transplant, and I was again prompted during my stay for the mega-steroid session – prompted on that occasion by the nursing staff. So here it is!

What is PatientLine? Well, a look at their website here shows that they claim to be “… the market leader in bedside communication and entertainment services.” A bold claim indeed,so what actually is it and how do patients benefit?

The PatientLine unit itself is a natty little flat screen monitor, mounted on a hefty wall bracket. On either side of the display is a handset, one looking like a telephone handset (which it is) and the other looking like a wired remote control unit (which again, it is). Underneath are a pair of plug-in headphones. This unit delivers radio, television and bedside telephone services, for incoming and outgoing calls to the bedside. In addition, it gives internet services and a range of computer games that you can while away the time with.

To use the unit you have to register with the help centre, via the unit and once activated an account is opened, credited with 20 pence, and the radio is enabled. Among the services offered are a free notification service where they will inform any number of people by telephone of your individual telephone number, (using a recorded message) and a telephone answering service (voicemail). All fine and dandy, especially as they tell you that outgoing calls cost only 10p/minute, less that BT’s phone box charges. Brilliant!

Ah – not so. You make your first call, after all you have just settled in, and you dial the number, it rings, and suddenly you notice that your free credit has gone! Strange, but as you put the phone down (no reply) you expect it to return. Alas no, those friendly people at PatientLine charge a minimum of 20p per call, and the charging starts from when the called number rings, NOT when it is answered! Good, eh!

Oh well, you can always use the notification servivce and get the family to call you. True, but wait – it is an 07xx number, reserved for mobiles and other telephone services. Now your loved ones want a quick chat, probably no more than 15 minutes to see how you are – that will cost them about £7.50!! Yes, calls to a PatientLine number cost just under £30/hour, or 49p/minute. No wonder they want to offer and answerphone and get as many people notified as possible! Still, they can always call off-peak – it will ‘only’ cost just under £24/hour at 39p/min! Pass me my mobile please! Oh yes, you won’t be surprised to learn that when you do get through you have to listen to a chunk of pre-recorded twaddle (about a minute) before you are connected – another nice little earner. No wonder (according to the chairman’s report for 2006) half their revenue is generated from incoming calls

Ah yes, mobile phones. Well, the PatientLine screen, when it isn’t doing anything else, gives dire warnings about patient privacy and respect on the ward, and the dangers opf mobile phones. It is true that in some sensitive areas (ITU, HDU or special diagnostic areas) mobile phones could interfere with electronic equipment, but on a general ward, unlikely, and certainly at Guy’s there seemed to be no problems using mobile ‘phones on the ward. And while a loud, ‘amusing’ ring tone at 11pm at night is a tad irritating, the ‘specially configured handset’ that patient line use is almost as disturbing – so perhaps they are more concerned with protecting their revenue streams than with patient safety. One good thing is that if you move beds, the service and number can follow you round, so long as you call the help centre – but then, so does my mobile!

So that’s the telephone side. What about TV? Well, you get 30 minutes of free TV per day, starting at 8 in the morning, whether you want it or not – the unit switches itself on – possibly to tempt you to a bit more during the day. How much is that? A snip at only £24.50/week or £3.50/day! If you are under 16, those charges are waived, and if you are over 60, it drops to £1.70. Still not cheap. Fortunately the ward I was on had a TV room.

So we’ll try playing a game.. thank you, that will be 30p/game played! Internet? Sounds good and will pass away the time – but not at £2.40 an hour – minimum charge 10p for 2.5 minutes!

Future services promised include the ability to order your hospital food from the unit which (to quote) “will make hospital food more fun” What??? The Words “Hospital Food” and “Fun” are mutually exclusive! What planet are they on? The only food you might want to order is from the adverts that are displayed (and from which PatientLine get more revenue)

And how do you pay for this service? Well, you can buy prepaid cards from handy wall mounted dispensers, but beware, no refund on part used cards, or use a credit/debit card when unused credit is paid back.

In fact the only thing that is really free is the radio service, and I wonder how much longer that will last, as a quick hunt round the website (not from a patientLine unit!) shows that they have been suffereing increasing losses since 2000. However, they are still expanding, looking to rip off patients in Europe and the US.

Now, call me a cynic if you will, but it doesn’t sound like much of a service to me.

I must stress that I am NOT advocating the use of mobile phones where they are prohibited, but look very carefully before using PatientLine, which to my mind exploits people when they are not at their best.