Edmonton hospital uses iPads to keep parents and babies close in NICU

WATCH ABOVE: The Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton is using an iPad teleconferencing system to keep parents and newborns close even if the have to be in separate rooms. Emily Mertz has more.

Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital is testing out a pilot project that uses customized iPads to keep parents in contact with their newborns even if they can’t be in the same room.

In neo-natal intensive care units (NICU), mothers, babies — or both — often need medical attention. Sometimes, that treatment means parents have to be separated from their babies.

“This separation causes separation distress,” Dr. Mehaboob Shariff Shaik said. “There’s anxiety in the mother — psychologically, mental anxiety, emotional anxiety.

“This separation distress not only affects the mother; it also affects the baby.”

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The hospital started developing a solution — technology that would allow parents to see and hear their babies no matter where they were.

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NowICU is a secure audio-visual teleconferencing system using customized iPads. The first patients to use them were the Lanes. On Nov. 5, 2018, Casey Lane went into labour six weeks early. James Lane was in Seattle at the time.

WATCH: Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation pushing for NICU at Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert

“He weighted in at four pounds when he was born,” James said. “He was a very small, tiny baby. He’s not tiny anymore. He’s thriving away.”

Their son, Lorcan Lane, needed a feeding tube and help breathing with a CPAP machine for a while.

“When I saw the video, I was reassured that he was fine, he was in good hands,” James said.

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“I just think with Casey, if she didn’t have the iPad at that time, I know she’d want to get out of the bed, she’d want to go to him straight away. With the iPad, she was able to see everything that was going on and she was able to rest up and get strong again.

“She knew everything was OK, the doctors and the nurses were talking to her, telling her what they were doing,” he said. “It was great. It’s a great idea.”

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Watch below (Oct. 28, 2016): Kids at Edmonton’s Ronald McDonald House are trying out a special communication robot. As Emily Mertz explains, it helps kids stuck in hospital rooms virtually transport themselves to somewhere else.

Robot helping Edmonton kids stuck in hospital to reach out
Robot helping Edmonton kids stuck in hospital to reach out

Shaik says there are multiple benefits to having the technology available to families. It helps stimulate milk production in nursing mothers and lowers anxiety levels in both parents and babies.

“One mother said: ‘I felt I was there with my baby.’ The other mother said it felt real. ‘I hadn’t seen my baby for a long time and when I saw my baby, it felt so real that my baby is there, my baby is looked after and my baby is comfortable.’

“Every time I happen to be there, I get goosebumps,” Shaik said.

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“In that room, the mother is crying, the nursing staff who are looking after the mother are crying, the NICU nurse… is crying. It’s an emotional moment for everyone to see the baby for the first time.”

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Given this is just a pilot project, there is just one set of NowICU iPads in the Misericordia NICU but Shaik hopes the program will expand soon.

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He’s received great feedback from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, and sees great potential for this technology in rural parts of the province.

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