Bridging the Gap: Video Chat Technology Connects Patients with Loved Ones During Pandemic

One of the most poignant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is that patients typically cannot see their loved ones in person. While visitor restrictions are currently necessary, patients and their loved ones are often desperate to see each other, especially in times of severe illness.

To address this, colleagues at St. Joseph Mercy Health System and Mercy Health have found innovative ways to connect patients with their families and friends. Using video chat technology on iPads and other devices, patients have been able to see and talk with their loved ones virtually, easing some of the situation’s distress.

At St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, colleagues recently used video technology to connect a mother battling COVID-19 with her seven children, who were spread out around the country. The family spoke daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Sarah Patterson, an RN on 4 South, shared, “Many emotional and even more so comical stories and memories were able to be shared. At the end of each session, the seven children would give a closing goodbye and they would go in order from youngest to oldest. One of the sons would play music in the background, and one of the daughters would connect from her back porch in Little Rock, AR and you could hear all the birds chirping.”

On the patient’s birthday, she began to show signs of decline, so Sarah called the children and quickly reconnected them on the video chat. They sang “Happy Birthday” to their mother, prayed, and shared an Irish blessing. After their mother passed, one of the sons told Sarah that St. Joe’s Oakland had gone above and beyond, and that the family was so grateful for the opportunity to communicate with her until the end.

Other hospitals across the statewide system have similar stories. At St. Mary Mercy Livonia, Spiritual Care Manager Larry Lyons and Chief Patient Experience Office Laura Gutierrez helped a daughter communicate with her mother, who had COVID-19, using an iPad. Laura wrote, “[We] prayed with the daughter. During the prayer followed by the daughter speaking to her mother, there were no visible signs the mother could hear us.  No movement, no increase in heart rate or breathing. We told the daughter we were sure she could hear us.”

The daughter then asked her mother to wiggle her toes as a sign. The mother wiggled her toes, causing her daughter to cry tears of joy. As the call drew to an end, the daughter told her mother she loved her, and asked her to wiggle her toes again if she could hear. The mother did. Laura shared that it was “a beautiful moment.”

While a virtual visit is not the same as holding a loved one’s hand, the ability to see and speak to loved ones through technology is a great comfort to many patients. We are grateful to our colleagues for seeking innovative ways to connect patients with their family and friends, and for honoring the sacredness and dignity of our patients during these unprecedented times.