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Nursing Informatics & Technology: A Blog for All Levels of Users

‘Seeing’ the Difference With the Help of Nursing Informatics

Published March 1, 2011 10:53 AM by Sandra Ng
While most of us are working on implementing electronic medical records applications, we forget how the technology we already have can be leveraged to enhance our patient care. In my evaluation of technology impacting the patient experience overall, one amazing story comes to mind.

During the 2009 H1N1 influenza crisis, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), like many acute care hospitals, implemented a temporary restriction in our visiting policy. No one under the age of 16 was allowed above the second floor of the hospital. In trying to solve this distressing problem, members of the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital patient care and operations teams partnered with our IT services to work with Skype to connect patients with their loved ones during this restricted visiting time, especially with the winter holidays coming. This was the first collaboration between Skype and a healthcare facility, and Skype was eager to support this cause.

Within two weeks of the idea, just in time for the holidays, all hardware and software, IT settings and resources were in place and our first Skype session between inpatients and their families was possible. Donations of laptops and web cams were provided by Skype. Motion Computing Inc. donated a highly specialized computer cart set up to facilitate sessions, which then enabled virtual tours of patient rooms and hospital facilities.

Our first Skype session was with a set of twins. One of the young twins was admitted to our pediatric floor while the other was restricted to the lobby as a result of the new policy. These twins had never been separated since birth, so the separation and sickness combined was a stressful time for both. With the new Skype-UCSF partnership, they were able to connect, and see each other, talk, laugh and relate as they usually did. It gave each of them true understanding that the other was fine. Many in the room were tearful and touched by the session.

Use of Skype was crucial and a huge satisfier to families during the H1N1 flu season. Though the visitor restriction has been lifted, Skype continues to be used to connect patients to loved ones outside UCSF and across the world. Because of this technological innovation, one father was able to virtually attend his child's graduation ceremony during his stay in our critical care unit. Another parent, who donated a piece of her liver to her child, was able to virtually visit while both were recovering on their respective rooms on separate floors.

This technology is very easy to use and requires very little computer knowledge. Our Child Life, Spiritual Care and Volunteer services facilitates our sessions for the entire hospital. Their help makes it easy for our nurses across the hospital and allows them to take advantage of this technology.

This was a classic example of the use of current technology to enhance patient care and patient experiences at our medical center. What started as a solution for the H1N1 visitor precautions, turned in other useful applications of the currently available technology. This is but one example of innovative uses of current communications technology in healthcare.

Because much of the meaning of human communication is contained in nonverbal cues, real-time video communications can be instrumental to the care of the culturally diverse population we serve. Slight nuances that a family member, translator and/or care provider could see and act upon would otherwise go unnoticed without these visual cues. Video conferencing could become the eyes and ears of caregivers and providers, who can work together to overcome both physical and cultural communication challenges.

This function is capable and common on many smart cellular phones today, which could potentially enable us to serve populations in an innovative manner as well. We may also want to consider how this technology could improve our own communications with other members of the patient care team. Imagine the potential increase in patient safety if, for example, nurses and pharmacists could utilize video conferencing to visually validate medications in new or unfamiliar packaging, etc. The potential benefits would be infinite and beyond our current imagination.

I encourage all of you out there who are working so hard on implementing electronic medical records to sometimes pause, look around and see where there may be other opportunities to use technology that is already available to improve the patients' and caregivers' experiences.

This blog is brought to you by ADVANCE and Intel.
posted by Sandra Ng


Our hospital chaplain raised the question regarding the use of Skype in communcation with the hearing impaired, which is a terrific idea and can be a better option compared to some traditional methods of gaining access to interperters.

Carol Ervin March 9, 2011 2:34 PM


I am inspired by your story and it truly reflects the concept of thinking outside of the box and asking the question "why not?"

Thank-you for your wonderful post.

Martha Vrana-Bossart March 8, 2011 9:49 PM

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    Occupation: Nursing informatics experts and enthusiasts
    Setting: Various settings in healthcare and academia
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