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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Pikachu in the PICU: Pokémon Go Away!

Author: Laura Kwinn Wolf, Ph.D. Chief, Critical Infrastructure Protection Branch, HHS-ASPR and Michael Pry, Director, Continuous Improvement at Excela Health System
Published Date: 7/29/2016 3:27:00 PM
Category: Hospital Preparedness; Public Health Preparedness;

By now you’ve heard of the new augmented reality game, Pokémon GO, which brings a beloved set of cartoon characters from the 1990s into your environment through an app on your cell phone.  Pokémon can appear anywhere on a map, so the game encourages you to walk around your neighbourhood to locations where the Pokémon can be found—generally known as  Pokéstops or Gyms.  You too can hunt, train, and capture Pokémon in your own backyard, your neighbourhood park, or… your local hospital…

That last location causes some challenges for maintaining safety and security at health care facilities.

When virtual Pokémon appear on their phone’s map, dozens of gamers can flock to that location.  Sometimes, that location can be near or even inside a health care facility, which can create anything from a nuisance for security guards to a patient safety issue. 

For example, the Utah Valley Hospital Exit Icon in Provo, Utah, found that it had four Pokéstops inside the hospital atrium, near a fountain, another display area, and even the hospitals helipad!  A dozen gamers standing around looking like they’re taking pictures in an atrium can made guards nervous.  A dozen gamers on a helipad trying to capture a difficult Pokémon can get in the way of patient care.

Guards have no way of telling the difference between a gamer and someone with nefarious intent casing the hospital’s vulnerabilities. 

By now, you might be wondering a couple of things:

  • Are there Pokéstops or Gyms in my hospital or healthcare facility? If you don’t already know if your facility has Pokéstops, you can find out by looking for your facility through the Pokémon GO mobile interface or by searching for your address on the Ingress website.Exit Icon   If you find a green or blue dot at your address, you may be part of the game. 
  • If I find a Pokéstop or Gym in my facility, can I get rid of it? You can request that the Gym or PokéStop at your facility be removed from the game.Exit Icon You may have the best luck by identifying your location through latitude and longitude which can be found by using one of many apps on your phone or by using Google Maps.Exit Icon
  • Will this keep all the Pokémon out of my hospital?  Probably not.  Getting rid of Pokéstops and Gyms will decrease the number of Pokémon running through your hospital – but it won’t catch them all.  Pokémon run around. Some of them may run into your hospital.  Even if there isn’t a Pokéstop or Gym in your facility, there is probably one in your area.

There are also examples of hospitals using the game as therapyExit Icon for some of their young patients.  If Pokémon is providing a benefit to your patients – say, by giving kids in your cancer ward something that makes them happy and gets them out of bed – you may want to keep your facility’s Pokéstops and Gyms. 

If you do that, make sure that your security staff knows that they may attract people who aren’t supposed to be in your facility.  If you do decide to keep the Pokéstops, you need a plan.  Be sure that your facility has a policy for dealing with problems and ensuring patient safety.  Security guards can’t just give people a pass in the spirit of the game.

Whether or not you get rid of our hospital’s Pokéstops, it is critical for healthcare facilities to maintain awareness of individuals trying to access or photograph your facilities.  People wandering around a hospital or healthcare facility who aren’t supposed to be there and they create additional risk for your facility. Your security staff needs to recognize that they are a problem and deal with them appropriately.

There are a wide range of reasons that people should not be roaming the halls, potentially interfering with patient care or breeching sterile locations to find a cartoon character.  As your hospital plans for cyber-threats, remember that not all of them look scary on the outside.


Comments:

Enough is Enough!

I have seen the crowds of players in the downtown district where I live and it makes it hard to use the sidewalk to pass through the area I believe a GAME should be for FUN and not be a PUBLIC Nuisance. I think the question of whether or not this GAME should be allowed to be continued OR some more thought put into how the GAME works such as requiring WRITTEN PERMISSION of property owners to have their property as a site within the GAME Until the problems of the GAME can be solved I think that the application/GAME should be STOPPED!
8/8/2016 9:21:39 AM

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