Essays

Essays September 2011

Geocaching around Hospitals

Neil Seeman

If you think, as I do, that the dominant benefit of a University education is to meet new people and loaf about in lazy chitchat – then you might have nostalgia for the printed map. Do you remember those floppy unwieldy things we used to call ‘maps’? During frosh week circa six years ago, newbie college students would be unfolding them everywhere, looking forlorn.

Stepping into conversation with lost students was a great way (I recall from my youth) for young people to strike up flirty conversation with these wandering freshmen.

How things have changed. Yesterday, when I jogged around campus on the first week of classes, I saw one, maybe two, hapless people looking quizzically at what I call a ‘legacy map’. Pretty much all the other hung-over or lost freshmen were staring at a GPS system in the palm of their hand.

That we don’t need printed maps anymore to circumnavigate as labyrinthine a place as the University of Toronto is astonishing to me. But it’s a pity for young University students looking for a lame excuse to chat up a lost freshman.

Even my six-and-a-half year old son uses GPS on an iPad to ‘geocach’ – a raucous ritual where kids run around parks in the city searching for ‘ammunition boxes’ filled with tiny hidden trinkets like rainbow-colored rubber bands. I was a late adopter to the GPS – but I’ve learned it’s great for geo-locating hidden kids’ birthday party ‘fun-zones’ in remote parts of the city.

Indoor Positioning Systems for Hospitals

The only place it seems I can’t use my GPS is in the place I need it most – inside. Apparently, GPS signals suffer from construction material interference, so the satellite-based GPS loses power indoors. There are all manner of maps inside hospitals, some better than others. But it seems to me that a so-called “indoor positioning system” for any patient entering a hospital would alleviate the burden of asking busy people where the nearest washroom is – likely the most common question asked by any visitor to any hospital the world over. Better yet, indoor positioning tools could help me find a unit, or the patient I was visiting. And it would save on signage and stress.

Technology is not the full answer to better communications inside maze-like hospitals – or inside Universities. Sometimes, especially when under duress, we need a human response. But for the majority of people under 30, there is, I have learned, an expectation that our hand-held device should be able to tell us how to get anywhere, anytime, outside or inside. Better, cheaper radio frequency identification for everyone inside all large institutions may be the answer.

In a University, it’s okay – in fact, it offers clear social benefits to young people – to exchange in idle chatter about directions to a new place. Not so inside a hospital.

About the Author

Neil Seeman is CEO of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell, Senior Resident at Massey College, Founder of The RIWI Corporation and Advisor to RecapHealth Ventures.

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