Kasey and Ben Wheeler can't always be bedside at Sparrow Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit in Lansing, Michigan, with their newborn son, Dax.
When they're not able to sit next to him and touch him through the slots in his incubator, nurses in the unit make sure the Wheelers get the information they need.
Sparrow's NICU recently began using EASE, a smartphone app, to keep parents connected and updated on their newborns' health and progress, according to the Lansing State Journal.
"It just eases the anxiety," Kasey Wheeler said.
Dax was born nine weeks early on June 11. Kasey Wheeler said he's still on a CPAP machine but his eating has improved.
"He's doing great," she said.
NICU department manager Sarah Collins said each baby in the unit has an iPad at its bedside with the EASE app installed. Staff can log into the app to take pictures, send text updates or live chat with parents. Parents who've installed the app on their phones can choose to add family members or friends who will get direct updates.
"It just helps with communication," Collins said.
The staff using the EASE app can document major steps in babies' progress like their first bath, their first bottle, coming off the CPAP machine or changes in their condition, Collins said.
Just last week, nurses sent 258 messages to the parents of 38 babies in the unit.
Ben Wheeler said they live only a short drive away in South Lansing and can visit Dax a couple times each day for a few hours at a time.
"We still appreciate the app updates we get," he said.
Ben Wheeler said he looks forward to waking up and getting the latest news from the NICU.
"It's just reassuring," he said.
The app has proved helpful for parents who can't be at the hospital all the time, whether they have a job or need to care for their other children, Collins said. The app also fills a void for family members who can't visit the babies in the NICU.
"We have very limited visitation," she said.
Visitor restrictions instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic at Sparrow still only allow two parents or guardians to visit a newborn patient. Other family members or visitors are not allowed.
Jamie Tyler, at IT project specialist at Sparrow, said she didn't know of other Michigan hospitals using the EASE app for new parents. She said they will pilot the app at the Sparrow Clinton surgical center and the emergency department at Sparrow Ionia.
Sparrow's NICU previously tried a video system that was set up over the babies' bed, but it didn't provide any context as to how the baby was doing, Collins said.
The EASE app gives new parents a better way to engage with the staff and have a better idea of what's happening that what a video feed provided, Collins said.
"We've already seen a lot of positive feedback from parents," she said.