Like many great innovations, HowRU—a virtual visitation solution from Cisco Partners Taleka and Citrus Solutions—was born in a crisis.

At Wollongong Hospital in New South Wales, Australia, COVID-19 changed the way the facility’s ICU operated seemingly overnight. ICU bed capacity was tripled to cope with the surge in patients, and restrictions on in-person visits were challenging for patients, their families, and hospital staff, making an emotionally tough situation even more stressful for everyone involved.

The impact of visitation restrictions

One of Wollongong Hospital’s core values is open and flexible visitation, and when COVID-19 hit, all in-person visits unfortunately had to be stopped in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. While everyone understood the visitation restrictions, families and nursing staff quickly felt a negative impact from it.

“Often we are having very difficult conversations, including end of life conversations over the phone with families and we found that devastating for everyone.”
– Bernadine O’Brien, Intensive Care Unit nursing manager at Wollongong Hospital.

Spurred by the need to enable families to not only communicate with their ICU-bound loved ones, but also patients’ care teams, Wollongong Hospital quickly set out to find a virtual solution.

Finding the right solution

Their search led them to Cisco Partner Taleka, which offers a human approach to helping organizations adopt collaboration technologies. After speaking with physicians, nurses, social workers, and hospital administrators, as well as former patients and their families to understand what was needed, it was clear to the Taleka team that an off-the-shelf solution wasn’t going to cut it.

Because of the ICU staff’s workflows, hospital privacy requirements, and the fact that ICU patients aren’t always able to initiate a virtual visitation due to mobility issues, the end-product needed to be easy to use and secure above all else. With their requirements in mind, Taleka teamed up with Citrus Solutions, who identified workflows that could be simplified using automation, and created HowRU based on Webex by Cisco.

Flexible and open virtual visitation

Now, when a patient is admitted to the Wollongong Hospital ICU, family members are invited to use virtual visitation and learn more about HowRU. With their consent, ICU staff activate an account using the HowRU bot, which produces a unique, anonymous username and password and creates a virtual communication space for the family inside Webex. The bot also completes the setup tasks that might otherwise be left to ICU staff, allowing them to spend their time doing what they do best—taking care of their patients.

HowRU also closely simulates the hospital’s core value of open and flexible visitation, helping to improve the spirits of patients, families, and hospital staff. And, it’s easy to use. A tablet secured to an adjustable stand is positioned at the patient’s bedside, and after an initial supported visit, the family space can be opened at any time with two taps. An unlimited number of family members can visit simultaneously, whether they are down the street or across the globe. Enabling a broader experience than a one-to-one video chat, HowRU allows everyone in the space to talk, exchange messages, share photos, and play music as if they were together in person.

Positive Effects

According to O’Brien, HowRU has had an almost immediate positive impact on the mental health of everyone involved, with nurses’ stress levels decreasing and patients’ spirits being uplifted.

“We are all human, we all have families, we all know that we would hate to be told that we couldn’t visit our loved ones,” said O’Brien. “By no means is there any substitute for having someone physically at their bedside with their loved one but this has made it just that little bit easier than it was before.”

Making Everything Possible

Beyond the immediate impact of HowRU’s implementation, the app continues to deliver value even as the requirements for virtual visitation evolve. During the recent 4-month lockdown in Sydney, HowRU delivered an average of 300 hours of virtual visitation per month, with an average virtual visit lasting 100 minutes. The solution has also since been deployed in other ICUs, received a glowing peer review in the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, and other hospitals are reviewing HowRU for use cases such as birthing wards, NICUs, and beyond.

What’s more, collaborations like this truly showcase how, when Cisco Partners work together, they truly do make Everything Possible—not only for their customers, but for the world.

Learn more about the creation of HowRU
by reading the case study and the journal article.


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Julia Chen

Vice President

Global Partner Transformation