Virtual Hospital Visits: Video Calling in Hospitals Lets Cancer Patients Stay in Touch with Home

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virtual hospital visits

Friendship has the power to heal.  

That sounds corny but it is true, especially when the person in need of healing is confined to a long hospital stay.

Those visiting hours hospital staff put up on the walls aren’t there just to placate distraught relatives, they’re part of the healing process. Cedars-Sinai regards hospital visitations as integral to a patient’s recovery, and the emotional support they provide as important during a patient’s stay.

Imagine, then, the added burden you’d carry if for some reason your loved ones weren’t able to visit you as you lay in your hospital bed. Imagine being left alone to battle a long-term illness as terrifying as cancer because your family was too remote to visit regularly, or your friends were physically unable to travel into the hospital each day.

It’s a problem common enough to get the National Institute of Nursing Research to spend millions of dollars on a possible solution. As a result, a group of U.S. university researchers will investigate the potential healing properties of remote hospital visitations through video conferencing.

Video Calling Healthcare Apps

Video calling is already being widely used throughout the U.S. healthcare industry.

On the health provider side it is being used to train young surgeons in resource-poor regions, to link onsite professionals with distant specialists, to pool the resources of critical care units, and to let general practitioners seek out expert second opinions.

On the consumer side there are dozens of smartphone apps that provide virtual family doctor consultations, and online treatments for everything from asthma to mental health disorders and beyond.

There are, however, few notable video calling systems designed to connect patients in the hospital with their friends and family back home. The Utah Valley Medical Center has been redesigned to accommodate video calling in its neonatal unit so that mom and dad can keep watch over their baby after hours, but that example is a rare one.

Which is why the new research about to be launched by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland could become an important starting point for a revolution in hospital visitation.

Virtual Hospital Visitations

The University’s $2.7 million research grant will be used specifically to test how video conferencing can be used to help loved ones living away from cancer sufferers become more involved in their treatment.

For the research, 300 relatives of cancer patients will be given video access to a range of health support services, including advanced practice nurses who will coach them in ways of providing assistance to distant relatives undergoing treatment and methods for addressing their own emotional and physical needs.

It isn’t very scientific to assume what the results are going to reveal, but we at VC Daily think it’s a safe bet they’ll indicate support via video calling is preferable to no support at all. Given that assumption, we can see a number of ways the technology could be applied in a hospital setting.

Bedside Video Calling for Hospital Patients

On the logistical front alone, video calling is already a winner. The service generates no more noise than a traditional visit–maybe much less if earphones can be used–and it removes additional bodies from the hospital’s corridors and rooms.

The real demand is that the hardware should be easy to use by someone who is bedridden. That makes simply handing out smartphones equipped with Skype a little problematic. It’s tiring to hold a phone to your face for a long time, and it’s difficult to see the small screen from distance.

Portable Video Calling Hubs

Instead, hospitals could look to a couple of portable all-in-one video calling units that could easily fit on a bedside table. Powered by touchscreen technology and fitted with sensors that detect when a user is standing near them, these always-on devices look like a cross between a telephone and a picture frame.

Users can pre-program them with direct-dial shortcuts to their friends and relatives video phones, and make and receive calls with a single tap on a visual icon. The hubs could be placed by the beds of patients in need of some remote care, and reprogrammed to suit each new arrival.

While the Case Western research is focused on cancer patients, there’s no reason why such a video setup couldn’t be extended to every unit in the hospital. They could even be distributed in critical care units to give visitors access to areas they couldn’t otherwise reach.

Let’s hope the University’s research proves video conferencing can convey the healing powers of personal visitations as much as an in-person visit, because the technology is ready to be deployed when given the green light.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Jake Guild

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