Bringing baby that much closer to home

News / General
By A. Rutherford

New technology lets families connect virtually to their infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at KHSC

Exciting new technology in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is now bringing parents and caregivers that much closer to their infant children at the most critical time in their young lives.

This month, KHSC introduces vCreate, a secure video messaging service that enables NICU nursing staff, with the consent of parents, to record, customize and send short videos and images of hospitalized infants to families when they are unable to be on the unit. Parents are alerted by email and/or text message when a video or photo is available, typically at least twice per week.

“The aim of the new service is to increase access for parents, reassure them about the care of their infant and help minimize any separation anxiety they might be experiencing,” says Damiano Loricchio, program operational director of the women and children’s program at KHSC.

“As much as they would like, parents and caregivers can’t always be physically present with their child, especially in the overnight hours. We know that a photo or video isn’t the same as being at the bedside but we’re hoping that parents will find it the next best thing.”

Capturing milestones in a newborn's NICU journey

That was the experience of Hiedi Keech, mother of Kaleb, who has spent the last four months in the NICU. Because she lives near Bancroft and was visiting every other day, Keech was eager to help trial the vCreate program and to have the opportunity to monitor Kaleb’s NICU stay even from afar.

“Getting regular pictures and videos really helped us to know that Kaleb was doing well,” she says, “especially when it came to milestones like when he opened his eyes for the first time. I found that once NICU staff onboard you to vCreate, the app easy to use and the image quality is wonderful.”

Using a secure log-in, vCreate users can access and download videos and photos on any device, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  For privacy reasons, videos are general updates only and do not contain sensitive or clinical information. The hospital will permanently remove all videos and associated data when the patient leaves the NICU or when the service is no longer required.

The new technology was made possible through the efforts and generosity of many community donors, whose individual gifts and fundraising events raised close to $215,000 of which a portion has gone towards purchasing the vCreate system along with other resources.  In large part, the fundraising campaign was spearheaded by YGK Healthcare Champions, a community of young professionals and business leaders committed to raising funds for KHSC and Providence Care in partnership with the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation.

“We’re so grateful for the tremendous community response to our campaign,” says Cathie Calarco, former lead for YGK Healthcare Champions. “The community really stepped up to help provide this vital service for parents across our region whose newborns are in the NICU. The virtual connection provided by vCreate will serve as a powerful source of reassurance to families and enable them to stay involved in their child’s NICU journey.”

Ensuring family-integrated care at an uncertain time

The venture is just one of many mechanisms through which the NICU team champions patient and family-centered care.  The core philosophy of the unit is based on involving family in every aspect of care possible, knowing that a NICU stay can be a very uncertain time for loved ones.

“It can be an incredibly stressful time,” says Kerri-Lee Bisonette, program manager for KHSC pediatrics, NICU and Child Life Services. “That’s why the NICU team is deeply committed to a family-integrated care model that facilitates partnership and collaboration between parents and NICU staff.”

That commitment to partnership is echoed by Alyssa Haight, a clinical learning specialist in the NICU who played a key role in implementing the vCreate service.

“The technology fits our family-integrated model perfectly,” she says, “because it helps parents stay actively involved with their newborn and the care team. Parents have asked for this kind of support for some time now and we’re grateful and pleased that we can now make it easily available to them.”