Among the numerous healthcare innovations that have emerged amid the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps most striking is the FaceTime app. No, this tool may not help diagnose or treat symptoms for the novel coronavirus, but for clinicians at UCI Medical Center, FaceTime and other video chat platforms have helped drive family engagement and connection.
Like most healthcare organizations in the US, California-based UCI Medical Center has had to place a lockdown on its family visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Except in end-of-life or other extreme circumstances, family visitors were not allowed to visit patients in an effort to cap coronavirus spread.
This was a challenge for Sahar Osman, MD, a neuro critical care fellow in UCI Medical Center’s neuro ICU. Patients who are comatose or experiencing other severe neurological trauma, like a seizure, are often in the ICU, and Osman has long seen family visitors make a difference in care.
Being at the patient bedside can promote connection between patients and family members and can have a positive impact on patient experience and potentially outcomes. Family visitation can also assuage family concerns because they were able to see the level of treatment patients are receiving and understand the course of their loved ones’ care.
Osman has stepped in to fill that role in addition to providing medical care for patients. According to a statement from UCI Medical Center, the physician, and in some cases a nurse, uses FaceTime and Doximity to video chat with family members and to fill them in on the day’s progress in the neuro ICU.
This approach has been important for patients and Osman’s colleagues alike, according to Leonid Groysman, a specialist in neurocritical care who directs the neuro ICU fellowship program of which Osman is a part.
“The way she handles families and responds to questions – and how she’s able to put everyone at ease – was admirable even when she was a resident,” Groysman said of Osman. “She has always shown a high degree of maturity, and her ability to understand the families – their worries, their mood in the moment – has always been phenomenal.”
Driving that human connection is also beneficial to herself as a provider, Osman pointed out.
“The thing I love about medicine is the human connection,” she stated. “It’s a privilege to be part of these really big moments in somebody’s family and in somebody’s life – particularly now. With the coronavirus pandemic, everybody’s going through a universal trauma of sorts.”
“So with neuro ICU admission being an additional trauma, I believe it’s important to show a little bit more sensitivity, because family members may not be in their normal state of mind,” Osman continued. “They may have lost their job. And that adds to all the anxiety going on now.”
This passion for driving a strong and positive human connection has cropped up numerous times since Osman has begun making secure video visits with family members. For example, Osman was able to witness a mother and daughter’s connection as the daughter woke up from a medically induced coma.
“It was legitimately one of the most exhilarating moments of my life,” Osman said. “I was excited because my patient woke up. And the fact that she did when I was on the phone with her mom was unreal.”
Osman has also been able to use her non-medical expertise — mainly her knowledge of several different languages — to connect with patients. A Beirut native, Osman went to medical school in Lebanon and is fluent in English, Arabic, and Dari. She also has some mastery of French, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
This has helped her to connect with patients and family members for whom English is not their preferred language, a significant comfort when it is not a guarantee your clinician will speak your language.
“It’s really important for me to try to talk to my patients in their language as well as I can,” Osman explained. “They really feel like you care. I had one patient who came in, an older lady who had a stroke. She was nauseous and vomiting, and everybody was trying to tell her to do things by using a translator app on their phones, but she would not respond.
“I looked at her and touched her stomach and said ‘Dau bung?’ – which means ‘stomachache’ in Vietnamese,” Osman recalled. “She opened her eyes, turned to me to get a closer look and said ‘Good job!’”
Video chats have become part of the norm as healthcare organizations nationwide adjust to new family visitor policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both qualitative and quantitative evidence indicate that patients do better, or at least have a better experience, when they have their families at the bedside. With that not being possible during the pandemic, video visits have worked to maintain that quality care experience.