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Sony breathes digital life into hospital

The entertainment conglomerate has a good bedside manner

The atriumlike lobby at Alder Hey Children's Hospital

TOKYO -- Sony has a new line of business -- rejuvenating hospitals.

In Europe and elsewhere the company once known for the Walkman is helping hospitals improve patient care and shed their negative image, especially among young children, as a pain in the butt.

As it does, Sony is using expertise it has gained in the movie and music industries and putting its state-of-the-art information technology to new uses.

In Liverpool, England, it has helped to revolutionize care at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

The hospital's ambiance was solemn until recently, perhaps a vestige from its World War II days, when it treated sick and wounded soldiers.

Now a children's hospital, it has been completely rebuilt.

Sony formed a medical care solutions partnership with the hospital in 2014.

Demand for medical services is less likely to be affected by economic ups and downs. In fact, it is growing steadily. But many people tend to shun hospitals as much as possible.

The waiting room of Alder Hey Children's Hospital is equipped with a digital aquarium.

For young children, who cannot understand why they need to see a doctor regularly, hospitals are just plain unpleasant.

Sony sees them as business opportunities.

The Japanese corporate icon is now confident that it can make hospitals pleasant places for young children, partly by utilizing its trove of entertainment gadgets and titles.

Newly built Alder Hey Children's Hospital officially opened in June. Nestled near a park in the same compound, it has a grass lawn on its roof and a spacious, soaring lobby.

Inside, the cold corridors that many associate with hospitals are gone, having been replaced by a warm atmosphere.

The place is full of unique ideas meant to lend a certain child-friendliness, like a waiting room adorned with a digital Sony Aquarium.

When Britain's Queen Elizabeth inspected the hospital, she praised it for giving special consideration to children.

When the Nikkei Asian Review dropped by, we noticed a girl accompanied by her mother in the waiting room. She drew a picture of a fish on a touch screen in front of her, then watched as her drawing appeared on a large display, joining other fish swimming in the digital aquarium.

Patients can watch Sony movies before they receive treatment at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

Like the digital aquarium, a big projector in the ultrasonic diagnostic room is intended to relax young children before they receive treatment. Spider-Man videos and other Sony content is projected on a screen.

One male doctor said he injects children with anesthesia for operations after noticing that they have let go of their anxiety.

Ludger Philippsen, who is in charge of Sony Europe's healthcare business, has been involved in providing the hospital with solutions. Philippsen said Alder Hey wants to be No. 1 in the world in terms of "stress free" children's hospitals.

IT is part of Sony's prescription for the hospital; operating rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. A video camera capable of covering the entire room is installed on the ceiling. In addition, each room has multiple operative field cameras to record every detail of an operation.

Sony has the largest share of the global market for image sensors. The operative field cameras at Alder Hey make use of these high-quality sensors.

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff outside operating rooms can keep a close watch on operations in real time through images recorded by the cameras and sent via Sony transmission technology. Doctors doing their residency can watch in a lecture room.

This operating room is equipped with state-of-the-art IT equipment.

Sony in July acquired a Belgian venture, eSATURNUS, that plays a key role in the hospital's distribution system for highly sensitive images. Video integration software developed by eSATURNUS is currently used in more than 300 operating rooms, including those at Alder Hey.

The images are shown in high-definition images, or HD, but in the future Sony will propose that Alder Hey use high-resolution 4K images.

Sony employees are permanently stationed at Alder Hey to discuss the hospital's needs on a daily basis and quickly respond to any trouble involving the company's services.

A doctor in charge of innovation at Alder Hey said hospital staff meet Sony engineers regularly and consult with them about how they can utilize cutting-edge technologies.

Sony has not disclosed its earnings from Alder Hey, but delivering equipment and software -- as well as managing the whole package -- is believed to be bringing in some cash.

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