HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Watching the clock while a loved one is in the hospital can be one of the most excruciating times for a family member or friend.
That time of anxiety sparked a team of doctors in Florida to create an app that connects hospital staff with a patient's family while they are in surgery, and it's being used in Houston.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Hamish Munro and co-creator of the app said so much in the medical field has changed with technology and has become more advanced with the exception of waiting rooms.
Waiting rooms, he said, still have uncomfortable seats with cold coffee and frankly, they are scary. The Ease app is a HIPAA-compliant medical messaging app that allows clinicians to send patient updates through texts, pictures and videos.
Munro said Texas Childrens Hospital was one of the first hospitals to adopt the app outside of Florida where it was started.
The app is available for both Apple and Android devices and free for patients and their families.
Here's how it works:
- Patients download and give consent to use the app.
- After answering a few questions, the patient will choose what sort of information can be shared.
- Invite family and friends of the patient that are selected to receive updates. Those selected will get an encrypted barcode that is connected only to that patient and their nursing staff.
- During the surgery or while the patient is away from their family, hospital staff can simply scan the patient's wrist band with a barcode connected to everyone they signed up to receive updates, even those outside the hospital.
- The app is also set up to make is easy for nurses to send updates and focus on their job inside the operating room.
"The app will send an audible alert to the circulating nurse in the operating room to remind them that it's been 30 minutes since the last update and that keeps them engaged in the process," said Munro.
So, how is an app like Ease HIPPA-compliant and safe for patients?
The app has built ways to ensure the message goes to the right person and uses a barcode scanner to make sure the patient's phone is connected to the correct family members. Everything is encrypted and nothing is stored. After 60 seconds of opening, the message will disappear.
"There is very little health protected information in these updates," said Munro. "We are not really sending strictly diagnostic or specific medical information. These are updates as to the progress of the surgery. We leave the very descriptive information to the in-person visit at the end of the surgery."