Critically ill patients use iPads and Skype to keep in touch with families during coronavirus lockdown

PUBLISHED: 15:41 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 16:41 04 May 2020

Staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital are setting up virtual meetings using Skype and iPads to help critically ill patients keep in touch with their families during the coronavirus outbreak. ICO worker Rosie Tasker and ICU consultant Dr Rowan Burnstein. Picture: ADDENBROOKE'S/DAVID COOK

Staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital are setting up virtual meetings using Skype and iPads to help critically ill patients keep in touch with their families during the coronavirus outbreak. ICO worker Rosie Tasker and ICU consultant Dr Rowan Burnstein. Picture: ADDENBROOKE'S/DAVID COOK

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Staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital are setting up virtual meetings using Skype and iPads to help critically ill patients keep in touch with their families during the coronavirus outbreak.

Infection control measures put in place to protect patients, their families and NHS staff mean visiting restrictions are in place, and therefore relatives cannot physically visit the hospital.

But teams within the intensive care units (ICUs) at Addenbrooke’s are finding new ways of helping patients communicate virtually with relatives.

Rosie Tasker, a critical care nurse who has had to stay at home since the pandemic began, but was desperate to help patients and families, is leading the newly-formed relatives communications ream. The team consists of other critical care nurses who have had to stay at home, critical care nurses working on site, doctors, psychology and the chaplaincy.

Home-based staff operate via telephone, skype and email to share information and practical advice with families of patients admitted to the hospital’s four ICUs.

An Addenbrooke’s Hospital spokesman said: “Some families have used the service to share the moment their loved one turned the corner, while others have used it to say their final goodbyes.

“There have been lots of other poignant moments in between for partners, children, doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants.”

The service is the brainchild of ICU consultant Dr Rowan Burnstein, who has been able to ensure every patient in critical care at Addenbrooke’s has access to an iPad thanks to support from organisations including the hospital charity, Addebrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) and the Oxford-based not for profit initiative, the iComms for ICUs Project.

Rosie said: “Even while in isolation my colleagues and I wanted to do our best for patients. We recognise that communication is vital to the wellbeing of families and patients, despite the restrictions on visiting.

“The Skype service enables a moment of contact with a loved one, regardless of whether anything is spoken.

“The carers on the wards are a great help in enabling us to facilitate this for families, and I am very proud of what we are achieving as a team.”

Rowan added: “I am hugely grateful for the support we have received and to Rosie for helping to drive this forward.

“The comfort the service brings to families and patients, when they are under so much emotional and physical pressure, makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Other developments to aid communication include an app developed by speciality registrar Dr Tim Baker. He and intensive care consultant Dr Vilas Navapurker have created an iPad app – called MyICUvoice – with the help of a £40,000 development grant from ACT and support from many others, including 40 volunteers.

The free app, which has just gone live on App Store and has the potential to help hospitals worldwide, has been specifically designed for patients who cannot communicate because they are on ventilators.

The team has received requests for access from Australia, Canada, USA, Kuwait, Saudi and France, work is underway to translate it into multiple languages, and under another initiative it is being delivered pre-loaded on iPads to ICU’s across the country.

Thanks to new software and touch screen technology, patients, who are often too weak to write or gesture, can tap on iPads and specially designed icons to tell clinicians anything from where they are feeling pain to whether they have a dry mouth.

Tim said: “I am delighted the app is ready to be shared worldwide, and to have been able to assist the relatives communication team with the help of colleague Dr Mark Vivian who also has a keen interest in this. Both are important steps forward at this difficult time.”

Anyone who wants to make a donation to ACT to help MyICUVoice or buy more iPads should visit the www.helpyourhospital.co.uk appeal.


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