Monday, 21 September 2020

Did You Know?: Cell Phones, Computers & Other Electronic Devices in the Hospital

Originally published in the RLC Newsletter, April, 2013


People who are hospitalized in any DMH-operated or contracted adult inpatient unit are now entitled to keep their electronic devices with them. Electronic devices can include:

  • Cell phones (including smart phones)cell phone
  • iPods and MP3 players
  • iPads or other tablet devices
  • Laptops or personal computers
  • Any other device (whether or not it is Wi-Fi compatible)

This is true even if these devices contain built-in cameras, audio or video recording devices; and it also applies to visitors.

Former Commissioner Leadholm issued this policy (the Electronic Device Use policy #12-01) on January 4th 2012 and it became effective on January 30th of the same year. Massachusetts is currently the only state in the country that has a policy of this type in place.

The overall purpose of the change, as stated in the policy document, is as follows:

Electronic Devices are often people’s primary link to the community and may be the main way that people stay in touch with friends, family, and employers, keep calendars, pay bills and collect and access other important information. For an individual hospitalized, maintaining connection to natural supports in the community facilitates their own recovery and successful re-integration into the community.”

The policy does go on to detail the reasons why people may lose their ability to hold onto their electronic devices which include (not a comprehensive list):

  • Taking pictures of or threatening to take pictures of any person or part of the facility without proper authorization
  • Recording interactions or conversations with other people on the unit
  • If the use of the device is determined by the treatment team to present an “imminent risk of harm to self or others”.

If, at any point, someone’s right to hold their own electronic devices is taken away, the document states that the reasons must be clearly documented and that a reasonable plan and timeline must be established to re-evaluate the individual’s access to those items. It also allows for an initial ‘assessment period’ (to last no longer than 24 hours after admission) to evaluate these risks. A copy of the policy must be posted or provided to each person hospitalized on the unit. The policy does not apply to forensic units.

Know your rights! It’s important that you know your rights if hospitalized and that you support others who are hospitalized to know their rights. Many hospitals still are not aware or have not fully implemented this policy.

If you feel your rights have been violated, get support by talking to the facility’s Human Rights Officer, calling the RLC or reaching out to the Disability Law Center (617.723.8455) or toll-free (800.872.9992).



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