Memorial Hospital debuts Skype video for parents, family, friends

[caption id="attachment_27017" align="alignright" width="369" caption=" Yolanda McCann shows her son Xavier to friends vi Skype while her aunt Sabryyah Abdullah and neonatologist George Franco, MD, look on"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA – For new parents there’s nothing quite so harrowing as an infant needing the intensive care nursery.

“It’s what no parent expects. It’s a scary and isolating feeling, especially when the new parent has to go home without the child,” said interim ICN nurse manager Kathleen Powers.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is doing its best to alleviate that anxiety with video linkups that allow absent family members immediate, live access to newborn patients.

Memorial is the first among St. Joseph Health System hospitals and others in Northern California to offer video calling service and equipment to parents of babies in its intensive care nursery.

The free service not only connects parents who live in remote areas and must leave their newborns temporarily, it also lets parents who are present in the ICN show their babies to distant family members and friends.

The first weeks after birth represent “a time in a mother’s life when she needs to be having all the contact with her baby that she possibly can,” said Dr. George Franco, a grandfather himself, who championed the new service.

“The separation of premature or sick infants from their mothers is unfortunate and unnatural. We try to minimize the impact of this separation.”

Memorial usually has five or six newborns, mostly premature infants, in its ICN.

The Skype service went live on Nov. 3, but it’s been months in the making, according to Ms. Powers.  “It was an arduous process, the result of collaboration between the ICN, the system office [in Orange] and IT departments. There were compliance issues to work out. We had to take HIPAA requirements into consideration to protect patient privacy,” she said.

Ms. Powers, IT project manager Terri Oliver and Dr. Franco were determined to bring the project to fruition. Their reward came as first user Yolanda McCann showed her preemie Xavier to her college friend in Massachusetts.

“It felt like we were in the same room,” said Ms. McCann, who also has 6- and 2-year-old daughters at home. “Xavier is my first boy, and he’s special to me. Skyping lets us bond and connect with family in a way that’s more personalized. My family can get on a computer and see him live.”

Small cameras mounted on portable computers transmit a secure, live video from a baby’s bedside at the ICN. All families need is a computer with Internet access to participate.  Families contact the ICN, their identity is verified for privacy protection and security, and ICN nurses determine a mutually agreeable time when loved ones can view the infant.

Users don’t need expensive computer hardware or special monitors to take advantage of the service. And with a parent’s permission, grandparents and others with close ties to the newborn also can connect over the video link.

Once the patient is discharged, the Skype password is changed.

“Sometimes all an absent parent needs to do is watch the baby, see him moving and breathing and know he’s being cared for. For patient satisfaction, this is a great concept. I’m proud to have helped make it happen,” said Ms. Powers.