• Article
  • February 1, 2019

Messaging App Connects Health Care Providers with Patient Families During Procedures

How an app can help reduce family members' concerns during their child's procedure.

By Kaitlin Taylor RN, B.S.N., CNOR

digital technology

Technology and Apps Help Hospitals Connect With Families

Children's hospitals are using technology that helps them better engage in family-centered care, all while catering to a growing, technology savvy patient and family population.

Just a few years ago, it was not uncommon for a mother to wait in an empty waiting room in the middle of the night, anxious to hear how her daughter's heart transplant is progressing. Parents waited hours before hearing any news about their child's procedure in the hospital. But that is changing.

Today, the simplicity and usability of apps create a new pathway to shared information, making technology an asset to families and the health care team. At Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, family members receive real-time operating room updates throughout their child's surgery on a mobile app called Electronic Access to Surgical Events (EASE). EASE is an app that enhances communication between health care providers and patient families and improves the health care experience.

The app provides users with the option to receive encrypted text, photo and video updates from the care team. The updates are HIPAA compliant because once opened, the information is only viewable for 60 seconds, and the recipient's phone does not save it. For those who don't have access to a smart device, the hospital makes one available for the family to use.

Safeguards in place: Before using the app and during the pre-operative phase, the parent or legal guardian gives consent for use. Then, the user registers on the smart device by connecting to the hospital's Wi-Fi and answering questions with identifying patient information. The parent or guardian may select up to three additional people to receive updates on their personal devices. This provides loved ones, who are cities, states or even countries away, the chance to receive communication during the procedure. 

Communication flow: Once the patient enters the operating room, the nurse begins a stream of updates. The app offers prefabricated messages, such as: “The surgeon has started the operation.” Or, the provider can customize the updates by writing a message with details about current interventions.

EASE provides families with the option to receive secured texts, photos or video updates from the care team during a surgery or procedure.
EASE provides families with the option to receive secured texts, photos or video updates from the care team during a surgery or procedure.

For example, in the cardiothoracic operating room, parents who opt to receive photo and video updates will receive a short video from the cardiologist explaining the pre- and post-operative echocardiogram. Pictures may include images of the child once safely off to sleep or upon waking up from surgery. However, if a patient experiences considerable changes in stability during the operation, families are aware the team will use ancillary means of communication. Texting is never a substitute to relay critical information personally.

Speak their language: In instances where interpreters are unable to stay with families or guardians for the duration of a procedure, the app includes a bank of ready-to-send messages customized to the specific procedure in nine languages. This ensures family members will stay informed, regardless of whether a translator is present.

Improving compliance rates: The intraoperative communication protocol at Nationwide Children's aims to provide families with bi-hourly updates. A recent survey published in Pediatric Quality and Safety found an increase in communication protocol compliance from 46 percent pre-app to 97 percent post-app. The opportunity for family and friends who are not at the hospital to receive progress reports and the increase in updates have been directly linked to increased patient satisfaction scores.

Future use: Nationwide Children's has expanded use of the app to all surgical services. Other hospitals have adopted this technology in settings where patients have increased lengths of stay, such as in the intensive care unit. 

Kaitlin Taylor, RN, B.S.N., CNOR, is an operating room care manager at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Send questions or comments.