By Erick Wicklund, mHealth Intelligence | July 1, 2019
Hospitals and health systems are now applying mHealth to the vital and often-sensitive process of keeping family members updated during a patient’s surgical procedure.
What once involved a series of phone calls – or a nurse and or/doctor sifting through a crowded waiting room looking for the right family members – can now be handled by an mHealth app. The connected health platform enables providers to send out alerts or updates at a moment’s notice, advising family members of the patient’s progress or asking them to call in.
“This cuts out a lot of the phone games,” says Courtney Schwartzkopf, Nurse Manager for Central Monitoring at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in southern Illinois, which launched its mHealth messaging service in November of 2018 in its ICU and surgical units. “That (process) leaves a lot of room for error in communications.”
HSHS St. Elizabeth’s uses an app created by EASE Applications, a Florida-based developer of digital health messaging platforms. The EASE (Electronic Access to Surgical Events) app is in use in some 60 health systems, and is one of several apps and messaging services aimed at improving the connection between the hospital and family members when a patient is either in surgery or staying in a hospital (such as an ICU or NICU).
NewYork-Presbyterian rolled out its own mHealth app in early 2016, creating a platform by which the patient could connect with the hospital prior to surgery. Through that app, the hospital could let the patient and selected family members know when the surgery is scheduled, when it started, what might be happening during the procedure, when it ended and where the patient was sent.
“The health and well-being of our patients is our top priority, and it drives our continued commitment to improving the overall patient experience,” Dr. Steven J. Corwin, NYP’s president and CEO, said in a press release announcing the launch of the new app. “We treat more than 2 million patients each year. This technology will allow us to create new touchpoints and enhance communication, which benefits both our patients and our physicians. We’re excited about this next step in offering our patients the best possible experience.”
More recently, telehealth providers and health systems have been expanding the platform to include virtual visits, giving family members (especially those with children in the hospital) an opportunity to see their loved ones and talk face-to-face with doctors.
Pennsylvania-based Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, which comprises two Abington-area hospitals, six outpatient clinics and two urgent care facilities, took that step recently. The health system placed a virtual care platform in the OR in 2018, primarily to allow physicians to connect with specialists for consults but also to allow the physician to connect with family members after the procedure.
“Bringing this technology to the OR is in line with two of Jefferson Health’s core values: putting people first and thinking differently,” Mauricio Garrido, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon, said in a press release issued by Jefferson Health. “We take immense pride in the service we provide to families with each patient we care for. This is demonstrated, in a very real way, by ‘opening the blinds’ to the classically inaccessible sanctum of the operating room and reimagining a more respectful experience for those waiting anxiously for their loved ones.”
The creators of the EASE app say the initial value of the platform lies in patient engagement and satisfaction.
“Patient communication is still too sparse and often lacks transparency and the personal touch that builds trust in the care team,” Patrick de la Roza, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said in a May press release. “Patient satisfaction surveys prove communication is a powerful variable in a family member or patient’s willingness to recommend a hospital. An added benefit of our technology has been the positive impact the app has had on these ratings.”
At HSHS St. Elizabeth’s, Schwartzkopf says the mHealth app, which is downloaded on a family member’s mobile device prior to the hospital visit, gives providers – especially nurses – an opportunity to improve the connection between the hospital and family members. On the nurse’s side, it reduces the time spent searching for people in the waiting room or placing phone calls and reduces the workload to put more focus on patients and family members who need in-person care.
She said staff were initially worried that the service would “take away that value of being on a telephone and actually talking to a family member.” But patient reviews so far suggest they like the instant contact created by the messaging app, giving them the opportunity to move around and not be tied to one place.
“And they can still ask questions and get a phone call if they want,” Schwartzkopf added. “It keeps everybody on the same page.”