IWK Health, in partnership with Cisco Canada and OnX Canada, is connecting Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) families to education, support, and resources with its web-delivered application, Chez NICU Home.
The platform, along with virtual care via Cisco Webex video devices, helps parents become more active participants in the care of their baby while it is in the NICU.
“Chez NICU Home has two components,” said Lisa DeWolfe, IWK Health’s project manager for innovation, technology and redevelopment.
The first part is a website that offers virtual education and resources for families, allowing them to track their infant’s progress.
“They just sign up for this website and they can read it anytime, anywhere, on any device that they want and it also augments the teaching. Nurses will do a lot of teaching, like how to swaddle the baby or what’s the correct medication, and it also prepares them for their discharge home,” DeWolfe said.
The second component is the video conferencing system. Each room is equipped with DX80, a Webex all-in-one video conferencing device.
“We use WebEx as a meeting platform so that each family, when they come into the unit, is provided a unique meeting for themselves to share with their family members. So that’s one way a mom can hold on to the baby, skin to skin, while still staying in touch with her family at home,” she said.
The meeting platform also helps familiars participate virtually in clinical rounds via Webex to get the latest update on the baby’s progress.
“Sometimes the babies are well enough to leave the IWK NICU but they’re not well enough to go home. So sometimes they’re repatriated back to a home hospital. One of the things that clinicians can do now in those rounding meetings is they can actually join from the home hospital to get to know the baby and the family. The family gets to know the clinician, so that transition has become more comfortable,” DeWolfe added.
This process has improved communication. For example, instead of transmitting some information about the baby to another nurse, and then sending it to the other doctor, the clinical team is getting all of that information at one time from the primary source.
Since this program is dealing with patient health information, the company has gone through a testing and vetting process to ensure the system is secure and something that isn’t easily hackable, said Denise Lalanne, director of innovation services at the IWK Health Centre.
According to the company, the feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, with 97 per cent of users agreeing that the lessons delivered through the online learning features were helpful. Chez NICU Home has also helped more than 450 families during their stay in the NICU.
For example, one mom unexpectedly had her baby early and her husband wasn’t able to come into the health centre due to work. With the help of Chez NICU home, the family was able to be connected virtually quickly.
The platform is also helping families with other children at home keep track of their baby when they can’t be with them.
“So one of the things that was really helpful to this particular mom is that she had an older child at home, and she could go home and get that child off to school and still join in on the virtual rounds. She didn’t have to miss the vital information that they had for the baby in the morning. And then she was able to come in at night when she had childcare for her older child… she didn’t need to be in two places at once,” DeWolfe said. “It was a great sense of security that she was still staying on top of all of the information and that she could still provide care, and in that situation, I think that she was really appreciative of the video conferencing.”
Virtual healthcare has become increasingly popular over the course of the pandemic. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage surged as consumers and providers sought ways to safely access and deliver healthcare. Last year, 84 per cent of physicians were offering virtual visits and 57 per cent would prefer to continue offering virtual care, according to a McKinsey and Company study.
Lalanne added that technology in healthcare will continue to evolve and grow.
“It’s definitely something that we foresee growing within healthcare, as it should, because I think it’ll really help with the patient experience….they [patients] don’t have to wait on phone calls to make an appointment, they can potentially go in and do it themselves,” she said.