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Patient Connect

MB ChB students, Tom and Jean-Pierre, are working on a project called Patient Connect. The aim of the project is to provide patients in hospital with the technology and help they need to speak to their relatives via video or voice calls whilst there are restrictions on visiting during the pandemic:

"Patient Connect is a collaborative project that aims to bring together patients in-hospital with their loved ones. Currently, due to COVID-19, hospitals have introduced strict visiting restrictions to protect staff and patients. With often limited telephone signal, and limited availability of technology, patients and their loved ones are further isolated from each other. The British Geriatrics Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists recommend screening for loneliness during hospital admissions, which may become more severe with these restrictions. Our older adult population are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, are more likely to suffer from comorbidities and longer hospital stays, are more at risk of being lonely and vulnerable, and are the most likely population to not be familiar with using the internet to stay in touch with loved ones. Patient Connect aims to provide in-hospital patients with the technology and support to facilitate internet-enabled video and voice calls with their relatives.

This project involves the distribution of tablet devices across all wards in University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust. With the recent recruitment of Warwick Medical School (WMS) students to support the NHS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, delivery of this service was initially aimed at training students to support patients reconnect using the tablet devices. With cascade training, this service is becoming embedded into the everyday running of UHCW and will be a sustainable service following the easing of visiting restrictions.

During a Warwick Surgical MedTech hackathon we discussed concerns over the increased isolation in-hospital patients and relatives may experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and identified the role technology plays as a potential intervention. Following conversations with WMS and UHCW NHS trust, a strategy was developed to roll-out the project across the Trust, with tablet devices kindly donated by University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire Charity. With collaborations fostered with Infection Control, Quality, Volunteering Services, IT and the University of Warwick’s Institute of Digital Health, WMS have worked to integrate procedures for safe, ethical and sustainable delivery of this service.

This project has been rewarding in an incredible number of ways. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity to be able to collaborate with local academic, clinical and hospital leaders to establish a new, innovative, service within a large NHS trust. More rewarding has been hearing the individual stories of those patients and relatives who have had the opportunity to use the service. During one person’s in-hospital stay their partner proposed over the tablet devices, which resulted in a very heart-warming marriage after their discharge. These tablets are being used to help connect loved ones together at the beginning and end of life, restoring the dignity and holistic provision of care. Furthermore, the sustainability of the service means that those with caring responsibilities, those who have geographically-distant relatives, and those who have difficulty visiting the hospital can use this service in years to come to remain connected to their loved ones in-hospital.

 The development of this project has been rapid, yet thorough. Our next steps are to develop a method of evaluation for the work, and to make the service more efficient with the use of bespoke IT resources. We are also hoping to help other Trusts adopt similar work to reconnect even more loved ones with their in-hospital relatives."