Healthy Choices

Hospitals say no to ‘Pokémon Go’

Any Pokémon-loving child stuck in a hospital bed would probably be ecstatic to see an Eevee or a Squirtle, two especially cute characters on the popular animated game “Pokémon Go,” wandering around the hallways or even their own rooms.

Trouble is, the elusive creatures aren’t always hanging around pediatric wards, and some kids are too sick to get out and “catch ’em all.” That’s why well-intentioned strangers have been placing “lures,” or virtual Pokémon-attracting devices, in Sacramento hospitals, causing staff to worry over privacy and security threats – and in some cases to even ban the game.

Like restaurants and parks, some Sacramento area hospitals contain Pokéstops, or hubs for Pokémon creatures. Adults and children who play the game often converge at Pokéstops in the hopes of acquiring larger quantities of Pokémon for extra points.

The influx of game players has caused problems for local facilities such as UC Davis Medical Center, which is actively discouraging game play at the main hospital, the children’s hospital and all other clinical care locations on the health system’s Sacramento campus.

This month, high player traffic has caused problems for medical staff in multiple spots on campus, including one immediately adjacent to the emergency department’s ambulance exit driveway and another at the hospital’s front entrance near the patient drop-off/pickup circle, according to a recent notice to employees about the game.

The hospital has asked the game developer to remove game locations from in and around the campus due to concerns about patient safety and has asked that new locations not be added without staff permission.

“Health facilities nationwide have also noted disruptions in patient care and operations, such as general increases in foot traffic for reasons unrelated to care and specific instances of players attempting to enter restricted areas,” said the notice. “A game component that allows players to snap real-life photos embedded with cartoon creatures is also creating concerns about the privacy of patients and staff in the background.”

UC Davis Medical Center authorities have asked employees to abstain from playing the game and to be on the lookout for suspicious activity among game players in the area.

Staff at Sutter Medical Center in midtown have also had concerns about the game, said spokeswoman Callie Lutz. While they understand that patients might be playing the game in the hospital, they are trying to prevent members of the public who are not receiving services or visiting a loved one from entering the building.

“We’re asking the public not to actively come into the hospital if they don’t have another purpose to be there, just to protect our patients’ privacy and make sure our hospital remains a safe place,” she said.

The California Hospital Association put out its own statement on “Pokémon Go” this month, stating that it is “undesirable from a security, patient privacy and infection control perspective” and that “hospitals are not the place to search for fictional characters.”

Outside of hospitals, the game has been shown to have some health benefits for its players, who often have to walk for several miles to find Pokémon.

Jason Desautels, a Roseville father whose 7-year-old son Vinny is battling stage four Ewing's sarcoma, said it’s tough when Vinny cannot go outside and catch his favorite creatures with other kids in the neighborhood because his white blood cell counts are too low.

He hasn’t let his little video game fanatic play “Pokémon Go” in the hospital because he’s saving it as an incentive to help Vinny get through his next six weeks of radiation, he said. During that period, doctors expect Vinny will experience severe fatigue and weight loss.

“We’re holding off on ‘Pokémon Go’ because we’re going to need something really big to get him out of bed,” he said.

Desautels said he sees how “Pokémon Go” could be a real pick-me-up for kids who are in and out of the hospital a lot.

“Vinny gets way stoked and excited when there’s anything about Pokémon, especially if it’s something he can interact with.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola