HOUSTON (April 30, 2020) — It's a difficult time to be hospitalized. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitation at hospitals around the country, including Harris Health System's Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals, have been severely restricted leaving many patients feeling lonely and afraid as they fight through their illness and/or injury. In response, Harris Health is using iPads to connect with patients, patient families and save personal protective equipment (PPE).
The iPads allow patients to virtually visit with family and lets the healthcare team communicate with patients isolated in rooms. The tablets are on stands by the bedside in a protective cover that can be sanitized between uses.
While the iPads connect patients with family and friends, they also help hospitals preserve personal protective equipment.
There are many support services that care for patients such as interpreters, dietitians, pharmacists, clinical case managers and chaplains. While each of their visits is necessary, these staff members don't need to physically enter a patient's room to speak with them thanks to the tablets. Use of this technology helps staff preserve PPE for doctors, nurses and others who really need face-to-face physical contact with patients.
Ben Taub Hospital has 40 iPads, but will have an additional 50 by the end of the month. The goal is to have an iPad in all 112 isolation rooms.
"These iPads tear down the walls of isolation for patients and family members," says Danita Collins, associate administrator, Clinical Integration and Transformation, Ben Taub Hospital.
At LBJ Hospital, a COVID-19 patient recently connected with her family during her hospitalization.
"Thank you Harris Health for taking such amazing care of our granny as she fights this virus," a patient's family member writes. "Your amazing nurse (used FaceTime) with our family, allowing us a small moment to see her and let her feel our love. That phone call made a huge difference for all of us and gave us peace being able to see her."
LBJ Hospital has 75 iPads and is working to deploy more in preparation for a potential surge of patient volume.
Support for Harris Health has come from a wide range of community contributors. Local Walmart stores in the greater Houston and Beaumont areas have donated 23 new iPads to Harris Health for this effort and CompuCycle donated 95 iPads. In addition, Stephen DonCarlos and the Rotary Club of Baytown donated $7,000 for Harris Health to purchase iPads.
"We're experiencing an unprecedented time in healthcare and in our lives," says Amineh Kostov, associate administrator, Business Operations and Strategic Initiatives, LBJ Hospital. "The goal was to find a way to address both the patient care needs of the pandemic and the patient's personal needs. It's never easy to be in the hospital. The iPads give us a way for patients to stay in contact with their friends and family, while optimizing the safety of everyone. While there is no substitute for personal interaction, we are hopeful this helps our patients during this difficult time."
Another sad reality of the pandemic and the restrictive hospital visitation policies is compassionately treating end-of-life-care patients. Realizing this, David Riddle, administrative director, Patient Experience, Harris Health System, in collaboration with the Spiritual Care Department, created an end-of-life care protocol that allows patients and family members to use the iPads to connect during this difficult time.
When the care team sees that a patient is diagnosed as end-of-life, it contacts the Spiritual Care Department and Patient Customer Relations Department. A chaplain then calls the patient's next of kin/family member to explain the situation and offer the family a virtual visit. The chaplain or patient customer relations representative coordinate with the patient care unit, and the patient's nurse facilitates the virtual visit at the patient's bedside.
"We see a situation where clinicians around the world are working really hard caring for their patients," Riddle says. "Unfortunately the patient is at the end of their life. Since family can't visit, staff is taking the emotional burden of being the patient's sole support system. It's not a perfect situation, but as a clinician you might feel a sense of relief because some of the burden is lifted knowing that the family is able to at least talk to their loved one and be with them virtually."