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Great Moments in Video Conferencing: Healthcare Visitation

by Ellen Muraskin

Does your medical practice offer in-home visits? Incorporate video calling to include the patient's family members (when needed).

Olivia De Santos, visiting nurse with South Atlantic Health System, now has seven stops to make on her route through Boca Raton's Century Village on Thursdays. She's got vitals to take from seven 80-and 90-something seniors in three buildings, as shown on the map of the health system's dispatch and data collection app, running on her Surface Pro tablet.

All these seniors are less than six weeks from their latest hospitalizations, and none of them can be rushed. Nor can traffic be predicted; the best Olivia can do is give each person on her list a two-hour window of her arrival time -- a range that doesn't fit well within the busy schedules of their adult children, many of whom live in other states. Many of these children would like to be there when the nurse comes, but can't spare the absence from work or other commitments. They'd like to help hear and record the readings, remember the medical advice and ensure its follow-up, reassure and/or instruct their elderly parents, and generally mediate between a confusing and often stressful process and the declining hearing, memory and cognition that all too often come with age.

Maintaining a virtual presence via speakerphone doesn't cut it; sound pickup can be poor and seniors don't relate to an often squawky disembodied voice. But video presence does. A two-way video call -- between the visiting nurse's Surface Pro and the adult son or daughter's computer -- puts these seniors' children in the room for them, hearing and speaking freely with them and with their visitor and (sometimes) caregiver. Moving, hands-free streams of loved ones' faces speak much louder, more clearly and more memorably than phone calls, which mostly just intrude or at best, prolong the visit.

What's made this virtual accompaniment possible and practical? South Atlantic Health System's subscription to a reliable, video-switching communications platform as a service (CPaaS). That, plus an easy integration between the browser-based video endpoint that comes with the CPaaS subscription, running on Olivia's tablet, and SAHS' online patient portal, open on the daughter's laptop up in Connecticut.

Here's how it works: When Olivia arrives at the senior's home, that patient's record lists the cell phone number and email address of his or her primary, HIPAA-registered contact, and notes whether that person would like to be virtually present. If so, Olivia quickly sends a stored text and email message to that number and email address, with a link to that patient's page on SAHS' online patient portal. Daughter in Connecticut clicks on the link, enters the portal with ID and password, and clicks on the button that enables the video connection.

Parent and daughter are delighted with this chance to see and be seen during a potentially confusing or forgotten exam process. Adult children swear by the visiting nurse and the healthcare system that has taken this easy extra step to reassure, lower the cost, and ease the strain on both generations.

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