Sometimes the most challenging aspect of technology design can be getting devices to play together nicely.
Case in point: patients checking in to a recently built healthcare facility are provided with an iPad for the duration of their hospital stay. This iPad is pre-loaded with a customized patient schedule, prescribed educational materials (i.e. a smoking cessation video), and medication and diagnosis information.
Hospital management had a thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if the iPad could also function as the controller for every patient’s in-room entertainment system? This would eliminate the need for two remote controls (one each for the room display and an Apple TV, which wear out rapidly because they have to be disinfected with alcohol after every use). And what if patients could use the iPad to surf the internet, or even access their own Netflix account from the iPad to watch whatever they wanted on the TV in their room?
Like many things involving technology, this simple request turned out to be surprisingly challenging to enact at a reasonable cost. The typical solution would be to purchase an out-of-the-box system with a control interface connected to the iPad in every room. These systems would have cost the client at least $1,200 per room, plus programming, installation, etc., multiplied by 168 rooms.
We wanted to give the hospital something more cost effective, so I started doing some research.
Light at the End of the Tunnel (Infrared Light, that is)
The goal was to find a product that would allow the TV to “talk” to the iPad with a minimum of hardware adjustment. The most promising product I found was by a company called Global Caché. Global Caché’s Flex Wi-Fi device clips to the back of a TV and uses USB to power up. It then monitors the hospital’s guest Wi-Fi for commands coming from the room’s iPad and converts them to an infrared signal the TV can understand. Combined with an infrared interface and Simple Control software on the iPad, Global Caché Flex Wi-Fi was inexpensive and easy to install.
To test it, I set up a simulation of a patient room at TEECOM’s in-house R&D lab, with the same LG TV and an iPad that would be installed in the patient’s rooms. I then ran through some configurations using the Global Caché Flex Wi-Fi. There was a bit of a challenge in getting the LG TV, Apple TV, and iPad to understand one another, but after a few conversations with the vendors and finding the right settings, it all went smoothly.
The next step was figuring out what app we could deploy on the iPad that would give it an intuitive user interface for television control. I found a software package called Simple Control, which has basic buttons, is customizable, and is easy to use. I configured the UI to incorporate very basic functions along with a big clock as part of the UI, which is nice for patients.
With Simple Control on the iPad and the Global Caché Wi-Fi box installed behind each TV, the installation time would be minutes for each patient room. In the end, the solution will prove easily deployable, robust, and intuitive for patients. It will save the client roughly $1,100 per room in hardware costs alone, upwards of $184,800 total. Well worth the research investment!