Chattanooga area hospitals are urging players of the popular game Pokémon Go to stay away from medical facilities.
"To play the game inside our building isn't appropriate," said Rhonda Poulson, CHI Memorial senior vice president. "This is a place of healing. It's just not appropriate for the business we conduct here."
The Tennessee Hospital Association sent a link to all its members earlier this week, showing them how to ask their facilities be removed from the game.
Chattanooga's three largest hospitals, Erlanger, CHI Memorial and Parkridge, have all done that.
In addition, CHI Memorial sent out a news release Thursday morning asking players to turn off the game when they enter the hospital grounds.
"This game can cause unwanted distraction to those providing and receiving medical care in our hospitals and medical facilities," Poulson said. "To ensure we are providing the top level care our patients expect and deserve, and to reduce the risk of exposure to illness and infection due to the possibility of game players entering sterile areas, we're asking to be removed as a game location and that our associates and guests turn the application off while on our campuses."
In the game, players use their smartphones to explore their surroundings. Some 151 different Pokémon characters — some rare and some common — are scattered around the virtual world. If a user's phone determines that one is near, the phone will vibrate. When the phone's camera is turned on, the Pokémon character is visible, superimposed on the real-world view. Players then try to toss a virtual ball at the character to capture it.
In the two weeks since it was introduced, the game has sent hundreds of thousands of players to search their surroundings for Pokémon.
The number of characters nearby seems to depend on the population density and whether something has been identified as a landmark, or Pokestop, where Pokémon characters are likely to be found. Places such as museums, libraries, schools or hospitals are more likely to have more characters nearby and attract more players.
In addition, players can drop virtual "lures" near actual places to increase the likelihood that Pokémon characters will show up there. Some social media posts have encouraged players to drop lures near children's hospitals, to make the game more enjoyable to children who are in the hospital. But hospital staffers have tried to discourage the practice, pointing out that players may wander into areas where they are not authorized to enter and disrupt the staff.
CHI Memorial has had several instances of people playing the game inside the hospital, Poulson said, although it was not clear whether they were already visiting patients or had wandered in while playing the game.
Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said she didn't know of anyone playing the game inside the hospital, but has asked the game's creator, Niantic, to remove Erlanger as a landmark, or Pokestop.
Parkridge spokeswoman Agnes Richmond also said she's heard no reports of anyone playing Pokémon Go inside Parkridge facilities. All Parkridge facilities have asked or are asking to be removed as a Pokestop, she said.
Because playing the game requires players to be looking at their phones and not at their surroundings, there have been some reports of players walking into walls or lampposts or crashed their cars. A video posted on social media showed a player's vehicle colliding with a parked police car.