Holy Cross Hospital has become the only hospital in the Washington area that provides movie videos to take patients' minds off what ails them.

Last month the hospital initiated a trial program in which patients in one wing of the hospital can choose from 180 movie titles from the hospital's videotape library for $7.50 per 24-hour period. The charge for each additional film during that period is $1.50.

The videotape and player rental service is being provided by Hospital Video Systems, a fledgling company based in the District of Columbia.

"Washington has a number of very progressive hospitals, both teaching institutions and community hospitals," said Richard Frye, president of the five-month-old firm. He said 12 other area hospitals are interested in the service.

A patient survey at Holy Cross showed the video option would be a good one, said Franklin Walker, director of community relations at the hospital.

Frye said the service would benefit the hospital and the patients.

"A patient in a hospital doesn't have much control over his life," Frye said. Being able to choose and watch videos "provides the patient with some sense of personal control, a sense of freedom."

The rental service, available at first in a 60-bed wing at Holy Cross for orthopedic, neurology and general surgery patients, offers comedies, dramas, classics and adventures rated G or PG.

The hospital benefits from the service because "when patients are bored in a hospital they can be quite demanding on staff time, on the nurses," Frye said. Video rentals will enable the hospital to use its nursing time more efficiently, he said.

Hospitals are becoming increasingly eager to add to their "hospitality services" for patients, to make the sickroom conditions less alienating, Frye said.

A Chicago hospital is the only other one in the country offering movie rentals to its patients, according to Frye, who is confident the idea will catch on. "The profit margins are sufficient enough to seduce us into taking the risks," he said.