Remote, digital solutions are increasingly being used in medical settings, from dermatology to emergency medicine to stroke care with proven satisfaction, convenience, and cost benefits without compromising clinical results. Not only can telemedicine benefit the patient and healthcare professionals, telemedicine can also help family members and caregivers.
For children, having parents engaged in care is critical. But that can be tough sometimes, particularly for kids hospitalized for prolonged periods. Yager et al conducted a proof-of-concept study on these situations in PICU of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Parents who could not be with their child during hospital rounds were provided with an iPad with an app that could connect them with the hospital staff in real-time during rounds. Immediately following each session, the parents, physicians, and nurses involved in the virtual meeting were asked to complete a survey on the level of satisfaction and disruption.
From the 153 surveys completed after 51 virtual meetings, the median level of satisfaction and disruption were 10/10 (range 5–10) and 0/10 (range 0–5). Sixty-two percent of parents reported work as the reason for not being able to physically attend hospital rounds, 46% had to care for other dependents, and 31% reported transportation difficulties. Although only 13 patients were involved in this study, feedback from both the patients and care providers have clearly shown that this is a feasible and simple alternative for parents who want to be involved despite other demands.
Digital, remote communication with care providers should be offered to patients’ family members who have constraints preventing them from visiting the hospital on a regular basis. This should not be limited to parents of PICU patients, but extended to family members of other critically ill patients. This can decrease the stress level amongst family members while allowing them to learn and inquire about the status of their loved ones, and enhance the continuity of care for the patient.
Although telemedicine is feasible in this context, there are many considerations that should be taken into account. First, the remote communication system must be secure to ensure privacy of each session (eg, HIPAA-compliant). Second, technical issues such as connectivity and quality of the connection should be closely monitored and resolved to avoid discouraging users. Finally, the workflow of hospital units providing telemedicine may require additional attention and planning as the schedules of family members will have to be incorporated based on their availability to take the remote call. Of course, the specific criteria for offering this service will vary from hospital to hospital depending on the resources available, but the inclusion criteria from this study is a reasonable starting point (telemedicine was offered to parents of patients who were expected to stay in PICU for at least 48 hours).