Helping Patients Enjoy FaceTime With Families

By Jaime Parent

Two weeks after the Tower move-in in mid-January, I was exhausted but pleased. Information Services had successfully managed no fewer than 35 projects, all designed to run on over 4 million feet of cable with 5,000 end user devices. Over 22,000 network jacks and 1,200 wireless access points were operational, and all telephonic and system network activity was working seamlessly throughout the building.

Then I got a phone call from Sharon Allen, unit director on 14 East.

“The patient we were discussing has returned for her prolonged stay. She reported to the nursing staff that she is unable to use FaceTime again. Can you help with this situation?”

FaceTime is an Apple application I was familiar with that allows people to participate in a videophone call over a wireless network. Much like the PC application Skype, FaceTime is becoming popular along with the devices it runs on: the Apple Macintosh, iPhone and iPad. Being late in the day and needing little encouragement to see technology in action anyway, I breezed over to 14 East to see how I could help. What I expected was a technology trouble call; what I got was a life lesson.

I met the family who were wonderful, engaging and — noticing the literature in the room — prayerful. No strangers to Rush … unfortunately. Mom has been a frequent inpatient, sometimes for weeks at a time. Dad is a longtime technology manager who is no slouch with technology himself. But of particular importance was their 6-year-old daughter and a couple of grandmas who were living near and far, depending upon whose turn it was to stay with the family in the far western suburbs.

Dad explained to me that while he was impressed with the Tower, using FaceTime was a frustrating experience. Defaulting to the customary and often incorrect “end user problem,” I soon realized that he was right … some of the end-to-end wireless technologies were not optimal, and FaceTime appeared to be working, albeit spotty.

So I solicited his help, and along with a grandma or two and some email addresses to use as receiving points, it took a week but we worked out the bugs. FaceTime was working 24/7 on the iPhones, IPads and even the Macintosh in the den. On my final FaceTime test with one particular grandma, I noticed the shadow of what appeared to be a young girl, shyly peeking in and out from behind her grandmother with an enduring gaze. That’s when I realized the power of this new medium. Now, anytime, day or night, she could call her mom, see her mom, or her mom could call and see her and perhaps feel a little bit at ease through an ordeal I could not even imagine.

A few days later, there was an email addressed to Sharon and me.

“I just finished my first FaceTime chat with my wife while she was on the Rush Pub SSID. My sincere gratitude to both of you. This is a wonderful service for the long-term patients at Rush. I appreciate your listening and following through on an emotional request from a very stressed spouse.”                                                      

Sent from my iPad.

Over the next several months, Rush University Medical Center and AT&T will be working together in a project called the “Virtual Visit.” iPads will be distributed in a half-dozen areas with the goal of connecting patients with their loved ones using FaceTime and Skype at both the bedside and designated family areas. Such technology innovation is one way of saying “Welcome to the Future of Medicine.”

Jaime Parent is vice president and associate chief information officer, Information Technology Operations, at Rush University Medical Center.

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