Lansing Hospital Deploys App to Keep Newborns and Parents Connected

Lansing – Kasey and Ben Wheeler can’t always be at the bedside in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sparrow Hospital with their newborn baby, Dax.

When they can’t sit next to him and touch him through the slits of his incubator, nurses on the unit make sure the Wheelers get the information they need.

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Sparrow’s NICU recently began using EASE, a smartphone app, to keep parents connected and informed about their newborn’s health and progress.

“It just eases the anxiety,” Kasey Wheeler said.

Dax was born nine weeks earlier on June 11. Kasey Wheeler said he was still on CPAP, but his diet had improved.

“He’s doing very well,” she said.

NICU department director Sarah Collins said every baby in the unit had an iPad by their bedside with the EASE app installed. Staff can log into the app to take photos, send SMS updates, or chat with parents. Parents who have the app installed on their phone can choose to add family members or friends who will receive direct updates.

“It just helps with communication,” Collins said.

Staff using the EASE app can document major milestones in babies’ progression, such as their first bath, first bottle, exit from the CPAP machine, or changes in their condition, Collins said.

In a recent week, nurses sent 258 messages to the parents of 38 babies on the unit.

Ben Wheeler said they live a short drive from South Lansing and can visit Dax several times a day for a few hours at a time.

“We always appreciate the app updates we receive,” he said.

Ben Wheeler said he can’t wait to wake up and receive the latest news from the NICU.

“It’s just reassuring,” he said.

The app has proven to be useful for parents who can’t be in the hospital all the time, whether they have a job or need to care for their other children, Collins said. The app also fills a void for family members who cannot visit babies in the NICU.

“We have very limited visits,” she said.

Visiting restrictions instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic in Sparrow still only allow two parents or guardians to visit a newborn baby. Other family members or visitors are not allowed.

Jamie Tyler, IT projects specialist at Sparrow, said she was unaware of any other Michigan hospitals using the EASE app for new parents. She said they would pilot the app at the Sparrow Clinton Surgical Center and the Sparrow Ionia Emergency Department.

Sparrow’s NICU has previously tried a video system installed above the babies’ crib, but it didn’t provide any context on how the baby was doing, Collins said.

The EASE app gives new parents a better way to engage with staff and get a better sense of what’s going on than what a video feed was providing, Collins said.

“We have already seen a lot of positive comments from parents,” she said.

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