We\Visit: combatting loneliness with video calling
For patients hospitalised with COVID-19, the battle is not just a physical fight against the virus, it’s a psychological struggle against isolation. While in normal circumstances, family and friends rush to the bedside of the seriously ill, offering comfort and reassurance, the infectious nature of the novel corona virus means that hospital visits are off the cards. Witnessing the impact of isolation on coronavirus patients, the Renier de Graaf Hospital in Delft reached out to scientists at Delft University of Technology to ask for help in developing an easy-to-use and secure communications platform. The result - We\Visit - currently being piloted with the help of volunteers at Renier de Graaf and Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, gives patients in isolation, and friends and families back home, a much needed way to keep in contact.
The restriction on visitors is a bitter pill to swallow for patients and their loved ones alike. Margo van Mol, psychologist and intensive care nurse at Erasmus Medical Centre explains: “a lack of human contact can lead to symptoms of fear, depression and post-traumatic stress.”
The communications platform has been designed and developed in a matter of weeks by a team of volunteer students from TU Delft’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics & Computer Science (EEMCS) and the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE), under the guidance of researchers, Elif Özcan Vieira (IDE) and Merijn Bruijnes (EEMCS), together with the close involvement with foundations such as NVIC (Dutch Associations for Intensive Care) and FCIC (Family and Patient Centered Intensive Care) and patient organization IC Connect.
We\Visit is an easy-to-use and secure communications platform which employs an open source video-calling application, Jitsi. It works via a tablet operated by nursing staff or volunteers. Bruijnes explains: “the family’s contact person is given a code by the nursing staff. The patient’s family can use this code to log in to the We\Visit system to schedule a virtual appointment. When it’s time for the appointment, someone from the nursing staff – or a volunteer – takes a tablet to the patient to start the video connection at their bedside. There is a virtual meeting space where people can talk to each another.”
Associate professor, Elif Özcan Vieira, sees potential for further development, such as a message in the bottle function: “We see that young children in particular can become extremely shy when faced with a camera. They would much rather sing a song for granny in a familiar context, or take the time to create a cheerful drawing. With a message in the bottle function, the family wouldn’t need to come together at the same time, but you could send different messages throughout the day. We\Visit would combine and deliver them as a message in a bottle.”
Having received initial funding from TU Delft’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the project team which is seeking further support enabling them to take We\Visit to the next stage, which will include adapting the communications platform to other institutions which have introduced isolation as a preventive measure during the COVID-19 outbreak, including nursing homes and hospices. A crowdfunding campaign for We\Visit started this week.