Apps, News

Guy’s and St Thomas’ plans to continue using virtual visiting app for intensive care patients

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust has been using its virtual visiting platform project, Life Lines, to improve communication for patients in intensive care.

Originally created as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic – as friends and family were not freely allowed to visit hospital patients in person – the team behind the project is seeking to further embed the virtual visiting technology into “routine intensive care practice”, regardless of when face-to-face visits and services resume.

Professor Louise Rose, who works in critical care nursing at King’s College London, and Dr Joel Meyer, critical care consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’, came up with the project before linking up with Michael Paquet, the CEO of Aetonix. He helped them to adapt an app, called aTouchAway, to provide a secure communications platform for families of patients in intensive care.

Further comms and tech partners, including BT, Google, Samsung, MobileIron and King’s Health Partners, also helped to turn the concept into tangible, usable tech over the course of just 10 days.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ estimates that so far, in just over a year of use, Life Lines has supported over 100,000 video calls between families, patients and medical teams.

Professor Rose said: “When we started Life Lines, we had no idea it would grow to such a large and sustained initiative, with so many people going to such lengths to keep families connected with their loved ones.

“We have now reached another milestone of 100,000 family virtual visits. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped make this happen – we have brought comfort and relieved distress for thousands of families and patients across the UK.”

Dr Meyer added: “Each Life Lines video call has been an essential connection that might otherwise not have happened between a family and their loved one in intensive care. Brilliant, dedicated staff have ensured that families stay connected during exceptional pandemic times.

“Whilst Life Lines remains primarily a pandemic virtual visiting response, it has highlighted ways to digitally enhance intensive care. For instance, the Life Lines team is developing a programme to embed virtual visits into routine intensive care practice even after face-to-face visiting resumes.”

The trust also recently featured a use case on its website – following up with patient Georgia Prorok, who was transferred to the intensive care unit at Guy’s Hospital in March 2020, after contracting COVID.

She spent six weeks in intensive care, during which her husband John was unable to visit due to restrictions – but the couple were able to speak virtually via a tablet app that was funded by Life Lines.

Georgia said: “It was like living a nightmare. I was scared when I woke up from the coma and all I wanted was my family to be by my bedside. Life Lines gave me some peace because it was the only line of communication I had with my husband and sister.”

“The second or third time I used the tablet it saved my life. I had some dark moments and felt like I didn’t want to carry on, I didn’t have the strength. When I spoke to my husband and sister they were saying ‘do it for us’. It gave me the strength to carry on fighting for my life,” she said.

The app also allowed John to speak to staff, get updates and have questions answered. “It was a rollercoaster for my family and there were times when they didn’t think I was going to make it. Life Lines allowed John to speak to the staff on a daily basis and to have reassurance from seeing me,” Georgia explained.

Life Lines was previously one of our ‘‘Highly Commended’ finalists at the HTN Awards 2020, gaining plaudits for the service in our Tech Project of the Year category. At that point the project had been rolled out across at least six ICUs but the trust now notes that there are “1,402 Android devices provided to 180 NHS hospitals across the UK”.