St. Mary's visitors fire up mobile devices for a glimpse of history

December 15, 2012


> View the YouTube video

Hospitals are not only places of healing. They are holders of history. St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wis., has introduced an interactive historical walking tour that explores the institution's role in both the history of its community and in medicine.

"A lot happens in a hospital," said Steve Van Dinter, regional director of media relations and one of the tour's creators. Advances in medical science and technology change the way a hospital treats disease. "And the people who come through here make a difference," Van Dinter said. "My office is an old dorm room, and I think about all of the nurses who trained here and saved lives. This tour offers some of that perspective and context."

The tour, called "Pieces of our Past," makes 14 stops in the 100-year-old hospital and its 2008 expansion. Visitors with smartphones or tablets can scan a QR (quick response) code at each site to launch a short video about that location. Owners of near field communications-enabled smartphones tap their device against the sign to launch the video. Van Dinter said St. Mary's was the first health care institution in the country to create an nfc-enabled tour.

"We wanted to celebrate our past, and using new technology seemed like a great way to do it," said Van Dinter. "It's one thing to read about history, but it's another to see it and hear it."

The tour starts at the cornerstone of the original hospital. The video explores the hospital's opening and the deadly influenza pandemic that killed some 1,000 residents of Madison and returning World War I

soldiers some six years later. It then makes stops at Alumni Hall, where generations of nurses studied; at a stained glass window, which had been incorporated in the first two of the hospital's three chapels; and in the Gardens of St. Mary's, where visitors walk the labyrinth.

The highlight of the tour is a video made from film footage captured in the late 1920s during St. Mary's "Baby's Day." Back then, all of the babies born within the year came back at the same time for their annual checkups. The video shows smartly dressed moms holding their chubby offspring in a packed waiting room, physicians examining squirmy patients and a handful of dads placing their babies back into their carriages for the stroll home.

"A lot of this material hasn't been seen before," said Van Dinter. "It was quite an education for all of us."

The tour, which lasts about an hour, debuted in May, and has garnered a two-thumbs-up response from staff and visitors, who welcome the distraction, he said.

"Unfortunately there are some guests who have to spend a lot of time here — they have a baby in the NICU or a family member who is ill," said Van Dinter. "We hope this is a great diversion for them in their downtime."


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.