July 22, 2008

Web Sites Connect Patients to Loved Ones

By Nicquel Terry, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Jul. 22--Colleen Staats stared at her son in a hospital bed, where he lay with broken limbs and a fractured skull.

A sport-utility vehicle struck 14-year-old Harrison Lucas on June 22 as he was crossing Rt. 256 near Stonecreek Drive South in Pickerington.

"It's obviously the worst nightmare you can have as a parent," Staats said.

She said it was hard to keep up with the dozens of phone calls and voice mails she received from friends and family after the incident.

So she registered for www.caringbridge.org, a Web site that enables her to create a page and log Lucas' day-to-day condition at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Her page (www. caringbridge.org/visit/harrisonlucas) has received about 25,000 hits, and more than 1,000 people have left comments in the guest book.

"It's surprising how many people have helped you in a situation like this," Staats said. "You don't feel so isolated and lost."

Web sites such as Caring Bridge have gained popularity among patients and families who want to share health conditions with relatives. Sites typically are free to users. Many sites generate revenue through hospital sponsorship and advertising; others are independent.

Caring Bridge founder Sona Mehring, of Eagan, Minn., started the site in 1997. A friend who had a premature baby asked Mehring to update others about the newborn's health.

At least 100,000 people have created Caring Bridge pages since then, Mehring said, and someone creates a page every eight minutes.

Caring Bridge sites allow users to write a daily journal, post photos, publish a story or introduction to the site and leave comments in the guest book.

"It's so important to be able to connect with family and friends when people need it most," Mehring said.

Most local hospitals, including Nationwide Children's, Riverside Methodist, Mount Carmel, Grant and Doctors, do not have similar programs.

But the Ohio State University Medical Center has a $70,000 annual contract with a site called Care Pages. The hospital adopted the site last year in an effort to provide a secure, easy-to-use program allowing patients to communicate with relatives, said customer-service representative Matt Ridley.

"In the time it takes you to call a family member and update them on your health ... you can create a Care Page," Ridley said.

Ridley said the hospital recommends the site to patients in the maternity, intensive-care, rehabilitation and transplant units.

Jan Hensel of Lewis Center created a Care Pages site about her husband in February after he had a stroke.

Hensel, 47, said friends and relatives throughout the country were concerned about his health. With Care Pages, she was able to update all of them at once, and the site can notify anyone who has visited her page when she makes new posts.

"It was exactly what I needed under the circumstances," she said.

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