New App Has Been Connecting Dying Covid-19 Patient With Their Families
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Babies have been born without family members present, funerals have taken place with only a handful of guests, and the people suffering the most with the virus - and other illnesses that require them to take extra precautions - have had to do so without the help of their nearest and dearest.
However, when the pandemic was in relative infancy, Visionable Connect was brought into existence to provide a no-strings-attached way to bring those in greatest need into contact with their loved ones.
In many ways, it's a lot like Zoom or Skype, but it requires no sign-up or download, and can be sent to any mobile device using only an email address or a phone number.
That's helpful for those who are less tech-savvy, medical staff for whom time is at a premium, or those who are in a critical condition and therefore unable to perform simple tasks properly.
Speaking to LADbible, Visionable's product director Karen Percy explained: "We developed [the app] rather quickly in response to Covid-19 to get that out, because families can't go to visit patients in hospital and needed a way to communicate with them when they're not able to physically go and visit them.
"That was our direct response to Covid-19.
"The initial use case was meant to be consultant-to-patient because consultants weren't able to see patients face to face, they were trying to be more digital than what you would typically have to in a hospital or GP practice.
"When you're speaking to patients - especially in end of life situations - even something like the language you use within the app, you've got to consider that circumstance.
"[It's] just about making it as simple as possible. You've got patients who may or may not be tech savvy, and one of the benefits of the app is that we didn't require each user to register.
"The hospital or Wi-Fi Spark has the devices that they provide to the hospital. We were able to enable the app usage without individuals having to register for an account."
While connecting people with their relatives in their darkest hours is obviously a good thing - even if it's not the same as physically being there - it comes with a set of new and unique challenges.
Even the wording of questions such as 'do you want to end the call?' take on a whole new significance and gravitas when run through the prism of an end-of-life situation.
If it were potentially the last time you'd ever speak to your parent, would you want to end the call?
Percy continued: "Some of the devices are bedside, and you'll have one patient using one device, and in other cases you will have the nurses or the hospital staff that are helping the patients and connect bring it in and they'll make an appointment with the family.
"It's just so sensitive with Covid-19 patients and ICU patients, and allowing the family members to speak to them one at a time.
"The fact that we can give families the opportunity to say goodbye when they can't physically be there is sad but rewarding.
"It's just about really trying to get that language right, so that we're not sort of triggering something in the minds of the users that might have even more of a negative impact.
"It's never going to be overly positive in those situations, but the easier that we can make it for them, just being sensitive to the language that we use within the application to make it a little bit better for them.
"Another thing that we had to note, especially with Covid patients, [was that] if their health had declined rather rapidly, some of the families wouldn't have seen them for a couple of weeks.
"So, the nurses would quite often make the call to the family first and just give them a heads up to say that their health has declined and say 'this is the situation' so it wasn't just going direct from the family to the patient without them having that kind of warning about the health deterioration."
The app quickly made it's way into seven of the UK's NHS hospital trusts, and was used to great effect to connect not only Covid-19 patients, but also patients suffering with other conditions who were left isolated from outside contact by the pandemic.
In one example, Ollie Morley - associate director of IT at East and North Hertfordshire Trust - spoke of how much the condition of a dementia patient improved dramatically after conversations with family.
This is just one of the instances in which patients' wellbeing has been improved by a simple call from a familiar face.
It's been proven that patients who feel comfortable and relaxed show better recovery and achieve better results, so this the Visionable app has been of vital importance to those who've used it.
Morley explained: "As soon as the trust went into major incident with regards to Covid-19, a number of different challenges came to the digital department to enable staff, patients, and the way we provide patient care to change and become more flexible, knowing that it had to provide care in a completely different way.
"We were one of the first trusts to actually think about patients coming into our care having no means for patients, relatives, or loved ones to communicate with each other.
"The only people they were going to be able to communicate with was the people that are caring for them within the trust - the nurses and the doctors."
"Now, although they provide a very compassionate service, it's nothing compared to speaking to your loved ones.
"When you're in hospital. All you want to do is feel close and feel like you can speak to people that that you know, and that you're comfortable talking with."
He continued: "We were seeing a large number of patients that didn't have the means to be able to communicate with their loved ones, and unfortunately there were some patients that were coming to the end of their days and into incredibly sad times.
"It really tugged at my heartstrings that [people could be] coming towards the end of their life, not being able to speak to people that they love, not being able to say goodbye to people, and not being able to just have a normal conversation.
"That's probably in the top 10 of my worst nightmares.
"If I were going to leave this earth, I would want to say goodbye.
"I would want to have one last conversation with the people that I care about."
Morley described another situation in which the ability to connect with family - in this instance for the final time - proved both crucial to the patient and their family, but also showed how rewarding the often emotionally challenging healthcare profession can be.
He said: "There was one particular patient who was incredibly ill and was one of the first Covid patients to come into our organisation.
"Over the days, they were becoming more and more poorly, and it got to the point where the nurses actually knew that this person was not going to be highly likely to come out of the other end.
"So, it was only a matter of time.
"Over a period of two days, the ward were putting me under increasing pressure to establish some type of connection, because this person hadn't got long left and there were people that wanted to say goodbye to this individual.
"The patient was not completely coherent and responsive, but was able to hold a sort-of decent conversation.
"It transpired that was the last conversation that that patient had with their son."
"Since then the son wrote a very long letter to the trust thanking all of the staff for all the care that that his father received, but in that letter he specifically mentioned the work that the digital department did in conjunction with WiFi Spark [a public space Wi-Fi provider who also donated 50 tablets] to allow it.
"If it weren't for that piece of technology at that moment in time, he wouldn't have been able to say goodbye to his father.
"It's one thing saying goodbye over the phone, but it's completely different to be able to say goodbye and actually see that the person or the at the other end of the call, so he couldn't thank us enough.
"He went as far to say that the service he received - and also the ability to have that final video call with his father - has changed his life."
Going forward, and moving out of the pandemic, the implications of this technology are boundless.
Another significant advantage of the software is that it can be used to convey test results and machine readings, meaning that specialist doctors and patients may no longer need to travel long distances to receive or provide the best care.
It also allows for out-of-hours visiting to be possible without having unnecessary people on wards.
The simplicity of having family around, coupled with the ease of the technology, means that the world of healthcare could be set to get a whole lot smaller in the future.
Percy concluded: "Digital is not meant to replace every other type of care, it's meant to enhance it, and that's what we're trying to do.
"Think about the possibilities of that, and being able to stream in different devices and make decisions faster.
"Using the expertise of multiple people that can't physically be in the same space to be able to bring them in and assess a patient's condition or situation to make educated expert calls on what to do with that patient is a good thing.
"It just opens up the world of healthcare and being able to connect those specialists to so many different patients or to feed in on so many different patient cases by video.
"When they can't just physically get there without it, we can help."