Families of patients at one Florida hospital no longer have to anxiously wait for a phone call when a patient comes out of surgery. Instead, they’ll be getting quick updates via text message.
Lakewood Ranch (Fla.) Medical Center this past summer rolled out a new program to send real-time updates to patients’ loved ones while they’re in surgery.
During pre-surgical hospital visits, patients are told they can download a free mobile app that lets them select people from their contact list who they want to receive updates during the procedure. Their selected contacts get a text message inviting them to download the HIPAA-compliant app, developed by Ease Applications.
The day of the procedure, an operating room nurse will use a tablet to send text updates through the app.
“It’s fairly simple updates,” explained Kimberly Meadows, a nurse and clinical leader of surgical services at Lakewood Ranch, such as quick notes on when the patient is heading to the operating room, when the surgery starts and when the patient is going to the recovery room. “But it still keeps them in the loop.”
In the past, care teams would typically only update a patient’s family once the surgery was complete, either in person in the waiting room or by phone call.
It’s a change in workflow for OR nurses charged with sending updates, but more efficient than calling family members, particularly if a patient wants multiple people to receive updates, Meadows said.
Messages aren’t stored in the app and disappear 60 seconds after they’re opened.
It’s mainly one-way communication, but recipients have the option to respond with one of three emoji, such as a thumbs-up or a heart. Patients’ family members and friends have sent more than 1,500 emoji responses to nurses since Lakewood Ranch launched the program, which Meadows takes as a sign of the program’s success so far.
“When a patient undergoes surgery, it’s a super stressful time for them and their loved ones,” Meadows said. The texting program is meant to “alleviate some of that anxiety.”
Lakewood Ranch didn’t deploy its program in response to COVID-19, “but I don’t think our timing could have been any more perfect,” Meadows said, given visitor restrictions. “It’s been a good way to help keep family members in the loop, especially when they can’t be here.”
Programs that provide regular updates to patients’ families are of growing interest among hospitals, said Aloha McBride, global health leader at consulting firm EY.
To cut down on time spent manually communicating with families, she’s seen some hospitals use sensor technology to track where patients are in the facility—for example, when they move from pre-op to the operating room—so that an application can push automatic updates that notify family members as the patient moves through the hospital.
Although some hospitals launched these programs in response to COVID, McBride thinks the overall trend will stick around.
Care teams are realizing that “this is actually more convenient and easier to use than maybe originally thought,” she said.
Some hospitals have repurposed video telehealth equipment or clinical communication devices to bring families into patient-care conversations.
University Hospitals in Cleveland purchased tablets so providers could videoconference patients’ family members or caregivers into their hospital room. It adds to a focus on bedside communication that University Hospitals has been working on for years, as part of the health system’s broader patient experience work, said Dr. Joan Zoltanski, chief experience officer.
As University Hospitals in the spring had to limit how many visitors patients could have, Zoltanski realized the health system needed a way to maintain that communication.
So providers are now using tablets to patch in designated patient caregivers—such as a family member or other loved one—so they can include them in discussions on patient care plans from afar.
A core part of this workflow change involves asking patients who they want to designate as a point person during their hospital admission.
“We did (this) in the past, but we really systematized it and made it consistent in the time of COVID,” Zoltanski said.