Keeping Families and Patients Connected During the COVID-19 Crisis

Added on Apr 13, 2020

By Rachel Biblow, Senior Vice President and Partner, Strategic Consulting, and Benjamin Cooperman, Senior Associate, Strategic Consulting

woman video call with mask

As the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread, health care leaders are putting in place extreme but necessary measures, including social separation and enhanced safety and infection prevention protocols to keep patients and clinicians safe. In light of such measures, it can be difficult for patients and their families to stay connected.

Children’s hospitals have long made innovative use of technology to help young patients stay connected to their families, classmates, and others when they cannot be at the bedside and/or when the patient’s care requires isolation and restrictions. Many acute care organizations are quickly adopting such practices and educating their clinicians on ways to facilitate patient–family connections, particularly during a patient’s final moments.

Here are three ways that health care organizations can help their clinicians both connect COVID-19 patients with their loved ones and stay connected to their own families during these trying times.

1. Provide tips and talking points to ease patients’ suffering. 
Many of us do not know the right words to say or, more often, have the gift of time to slow down and practice the small gestures that can make a big difference during moments of crisis. Singing, praying, reading, or simply talking to patients, whether they are responsive or not, can create warmth and a vital human connection. Develop quick tips or simple job aids/talking points to help families find words or ways to demonstrate that they are “present” with their loved ones, and to help clinicians be “in the moment” with families.

2. Leverage existing mobile communications technology. 
Many organizations have stockpiles of older-generation tablets, laptops, and smartphones that can be reactivated and repurposed to help families communicate with their loved ones—whether it is through email, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or a phone call. Simple acts of kindness and empathy—a physician holding a phone to a patient’s ear so that her son can recite a prayer for her; a team of nurses who gather at the bedside of their dying colleague and take one last photo with him so that his daughter can see her father is not alone in his final moments—can help family members cope with the circumstances of their loss.

3. Create ways for clinicians to connect with their loved ones. 
Organizations have installed communications devices at strategic staff locations so that clinicians can quickly connect with their loved ones. Treating COVID-19 patients places clinicians at great risk of contracting the virus themselves, and many are separating themselves from their families to keep them safe. Making it easy for clinicians to stay connected to their loved ones can reduce the emotional toll accompanying such sacrifices.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has presented the health care community with unprecedented challenges. With the simple strategies we outlined here, keeping the lines of communication open—for patients, clinicians, and families—does not have to be one of those challenges.

Visit our dedicated COVID-19 webpage for additional resources.