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NUI Galway, Cisco, and IBM Team up to Connect Family Members with Patients and Staff in the ICU
When the visiting restrictions were introduced in early March, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team in University Hospital Galway (UHG) in Ireland realized that it was going to be very difficult to keep families and patients in the ICU updated and connected, particularly where family members may be in physical isolation in different locations. In an effort to address these challenges, the ICU team at UHG reached out to its partners National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, the local University, who in turn reached out to Cisco and IBM for a solution.
The Problem and Solution
NUI Galway, Cisco, and IBM assembled a team to answer the call and working closely with the ICU and Clinical Engineering teams in UHG, rapidly developed a state-of-the-art video conferencing solution specifically suited for the Intensive care setting which they called ICU FamilyLink. This utilizes the hospital’s existing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Network in combination with Cisco Webex Meetings and Cisco Webex Devices donated from Cisco Collaboration Business Unit in Galway. The secure system is designed for an easy setup where close family members are invited by the nurse looking after the patient, to see and speak to their loved one. ICU FamilyLink also enables staff to advise the family and discuss medical and treatment issues that arise.
The project is supported by a team of IBM volunteers who are available by phone to family members to offer any technical support. And the Cisco Webex Devices are complemented by Apple iPads to facilitate staff-to-staff Webex video calls. All the equipment and expertise required to get this system operational has been provided pro bono by the solution providers and those supporting them.
Experiences From Providers, Doctors, Families, and Hospital Staff
Commenting Chris Kane, Hospital Manager said, “We are very grateful to everyone who has given their time and expertise to support the delivery of such an important project in such a short timeframe. The last number of weeks have been very difficult for patients in ICU and their families; the staff recognised this and wanted to do something to support them.”
Ann Conroy, Clinical Nurse Manager 3 who works in the ICU in UHG said, “The system was designed and implemented to make it as easy as possible for the nurse caring for the patient to use safely and securely. This was based on listening to the nurses and addressing the needs that we identified. The simplicity of the unit is what makes this such a success for the nurses who are busy caring for the patient and for the families who are at home. Also, the quality of the video image is excellent which means it is as close as a family member will get to being in the ICU.”
Mrs. Maura McNamara, the wife of a patient from Galway City who was treated in the ICU said, “We got an opportunity to use the video conferencing system to keep in touch with my husband while he was in the ICU. It was fantastic to get to see him and how he was doing and get updates from the nurses. It is difficult not being able to visit the hospital and this was the next best thing to being there.”
Irial Conroy and Dr. Aoife Murray, both NUI Galway Research Fellows said, “In Galway, we are fortunate to have existing partnerships between UHG, NUI Galway, Tech and MedTech companies. This meant that a team could be formed in less than a day, and the project could be delivered in less than 3 weeks. Having a mix of medical and technical skills on the core team, was key to introducing this into the complex hospital setting. The hospital staff was key in advocating the needs of patients and families.”
David Bermingham, Director of AI Applications, IBM Ireland, commented, “COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for frontline medical professionals and patients’ families are facing unprecedented challenges, made even more difficult when they cannot visit loved ones in the hospital. I am very grateful to all the IBM volunteers who are dedicating time as part of the team to help set up and customised the experience to make it easy for families to stay connected in difficult times.”
“The frontline medics are the real heroes here; we’re just proud to play our small part. Deploying a solution like this across multiple organisations would typically take months. However, through collaboration and commitment, we were able to do this far faster, to help patients and their loved ones stay connected during these exceptional times. I’m grateful to all the skilled volunteers who made this happen”, added Keith Griffin, Site Leader, Cisco Galway.
Irial Conroy (NUI Galway/IBM), Dr. Aoife Murray (NUI Galway), Brian O’Donoghue (Cisco), Breda McColgan (IBM), PJ McKenna (IBM), Frank Kirrane (UHG), and Leonie Cullen (UHG), UHG IT department together with others from the wider Saolta, Cisco, IBM, and NUI Galway teams delivered this initiative, demonstrating how healthcare providers, academia and technology providers can partner to provide innovative solutions for patients and their families.