Expert Voices

Surgery App Keeps Families Updated in Real Time (Op-Ed)

Barr family using EASE app, updates, surgery, technology
Calvin and Emily Barr look at an image of their son, Calvin, Jr., during a recent surgery at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. The Barrs signed up to use the EASE app during their son`s surgery, allowing them to get updates via smartphones, including text messages, photos and videos. (Image credit: Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida)

Dr. Kevin De La Roza and Dr. Hamish Munro, pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists at The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children — Orlando Health, contributed this column to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op Ed & Insights.

It's nerve-wracking for anyone to see a loved one wheeled into surgery and equally stressful to sit in the waiting room, often for hours, while doctors complete the procedure. For parents especially, no matter how much we reassure them before surgery, the fear in their eyes as we take their child into the operating room is obvious. We know the importance of communication to help reduce their anxiety.

Now, instead of trying to reassure our patients' families and loved ones with words, we are also doing it with pictures and videos. Using a new app, as one nurse administers anesthesia to a patient in the operating room, another can quietly use a handheld device to snap a photo of the patient.

In just seconds, the same nurse can send that image to the patient's family sitting in the waiting room. It's called Electronic Access to Surgical Events (EASE), and is designed to do exactly what its name implies — ease the minds of those who are waiting for and worrying about a child who is undergoing surgery. The new app, which was developed by Orlando Health doctors at The Heart Center of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, in partnership with the EASE team, sends information from the operating room directly to the smartphones of a patient's family and loved ones.

One family wrote to us after experiencing EASE during their child's surgery, saying, "this app should be available for all ages and all procedures," and that is the ultimate goal of the app. Whether the patient is six years old or 60, the anxiety felt by their family in the waiting room is identical. The tool is an opportunity to reduce anxiety, increase understanding and enhance the trust between doctors and families by changing the operating room experience from exclusion and secrecy to inclusion and transparency through better communication.

Throughout the duration of the procedures, we can send dozens of messages — some only a simple text, and others containing photos or short videos — to explain exactly what doctors are doing during different phases of surgery.

Since the texts and images are sent directly to smartphones, family members don't have to sit anxiously in a hospital waiting room to get information. In fact, family members or loved ones who download the app can receive updates during surgery from anywhere in the world.

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Since privacy is just as important as keeping families up to date, we use 256-bit encryption for all messages, which is the same level of security used in mobile banking transactions. We control user access, which means only the hospital can authorize people to use the app, and all of our doctors are specially trained to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines. Just like the popular photo-sharing application Snapchat, all messages and images sent through the EASE app are automatically deleted within 45 seconds and are never stored on any device.

Our goal is to make this process as seamless and unnoticeable as possible in the operating room. A circulating nurse is already responsible for updating families by telephone, and we've simply created a new, modern way to do it. For each operation, a nurse is assigned a device and is responsible for tracking the progress of the surgery and keeping the family informed. This allows surgeons to focus on the surgery, while the nurse can help reassure families without interrupting the procedure.

A nurse takes a photo during a recent surgery on an 8-year-old boy at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. Doctors there have developed an app that allows nurses to safely and securely send texts, photos and videos from the OR directly to the smartphones of family members in an effort to keep them informed on progress during surgical procedures. (Image credit: Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida)

The goal of EASE is to involve families and loved ones in their child's surgery to an extent that's comfortable for them. It allows us to give them planned updates and educate them in a quick and simple way. Most importantly, it keeps minds at ease during an often long and overwhelming process. In creating and using EASE, our doctors and patients have truly found meaning in the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Family members can download the app for free from either the Apple or Android Store to their own mobile device. By following a simple registration process, a unique access code is generated which is then scanned by a healthcare professional and a secure connection is made.

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