Isolation and loneliness are so common for acutely ill patients that Nurse Jenifer Tabamo wanted to use technology to help alleviate the problem.
With COVID-19, isolation and loneliness have only been exacerbated by new physical distancing guidelines, leaving patients alone and unable to enjoy visits with their families.
Tabamo, a University of British Columbia nursing double alumna who works as a clinical nurse specialist at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) in Canada, was part of the team that kickstarted the iPads on Wheels program to help connect acutely ill patients.
“As a clinical nurse specialist, I provide clinical care and expertise as a consultant for highly complex vulnerable adult and older adult patients with unpredictable needs in the hospital,” said Tabamo in an interview with Daily Hive.
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“Within my role, I also lead and innovate on a systems-level initiative to facilitate the delivery of quality and safe patient-centered care, so that’s how the iPads on Wheels program has come into fruition.”
Tabamo has led the development and introduction of the program in the nine acute medical units at VGH, and the program was formally launched in March.
It gained more traction and popularity as the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.
“It is a big part of the proposed solution in the hospital for providing tailored activities; for example, promoting leisure, alleviating loneliness, boredom, social isolation, as well as providing comfort for our acutely ill patients, so that’s how it started,” said Tabamo.
“But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the demands of physical distancing, we have used iPads on Wheels in various ways, in bridging that social connection with families and loved ones.”
Using FaceTime or other video-calling applications, acutely ill patients who are alone in the hospital are able to have a virtual visit from family or loved ones, facilitated by care staff.
Tabamo says patients have faced many difficulties in adjusting to the new regulations during the pandemic.
“I think the hardest part is for our patients to make this difficult adjustment in a very fast pace, and they have to accept this new regulation no matter what,” said Tabamo.
“I know this is extraordinarily difficult for some of our specialized patient population who may not understand all the implications of why we needed to do physical distancing and why we are restricting visits from others outside of the hospital.”
While the process can be extremely isolating, iPads on Wheels is one way to help put a smile on patients’ faces.
“They’re already on their own suffering the acute illness of being in an environment that’s unfamiliar. With acute care staff wearing their PPE, that can be intimidating for them, and then to be away from their loved ones, their social supports — it can be very isolating,” said Tabamo.
Although delivering this new form of care requires coordination, Tabamo said it is extremely rewarding.
“I was able to help facilitate a patient’s daughter who was trying to connect with her dad, who was admitted in one of our COVID units. She was trying to have a connection to use FaceTime, and with technology sometimes it’s a hit or miss, but she was able to finally reach him because we have to make sure the patient is ready on our end, and our care staff are ready to support the FaceTime call,” said Tabamo.
“The family was able to see him in his room, ask about his symptoms, have family conversations — they were all happy to finally see him and provide him reassurance and be together in an isolating time.”
While the iPads on Wheels program started at the perfect time, right before the pandemic began, the use of the iPads extends beyond coronavirus patients and can really make a difference, according to Tabamo.
“I think that the beauty of iPads and technology is that we can tailor meaningful activities for patients who are lonely, for example, of being in the hospital,” said Tabamo.
“I had a patient with dementia who was having some intermittent calling-out behaviours, and he was fighting during personal care, but his wife mentioned to us over the phone that this patient is very passionate about orchestra music, symphony, and German conductor Simon Rattle, so our care team then set up the iPad so he can watch it during that difficult time of personal care.”
“He began to relax and he was like a conductor, [moving] his arms, and finally relaxed, and our providers were able to provide safe care.”
Looking forward, Tabamo says she hopes they are able to get more iPads and continue to expand the program.
“The most rewarding part for me is I can see an immediate impact — the smiles that I see from across the patients and families faces. It’s a small gesture, but it means the world to my patients and their families.”