Just as one nurse gently placed a mask on 8-year-old Calvin Barr to administer anesthesia before his spinal surgery recently, another quietly stepped to the foot of the bed and snapped a photo of him with a smartphone. Calvin playfully squinted at the nurse with the phone, and through the clear blue mask, you could see a faint smile.

A few seconds later in a waiting room down the hall, Emily Barr’s smartphone chimed with the indication that she’d received a text message. It was the photo the nurse had just taken of her son Calvin. After seeing it, Emily smiled herself.

Over the next three hours at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, FL, Emily and her husband, Calvin Barr Sr., received a half dozen more texts. Some were just a sentence or two updating Calvin’s status, while others contained photos or videos explaining exactly what doctors were doing during his surgery.

“I admit I wasn’t sure about the idea at first,” said Emily Barr, “but being able to get that information has been very good. We could see what was going on and constantly knew his status, and that’s been very reassuring to us.”

The Barrs are among the first to take advantage of a new app that feeds information from the operating room directly to the smartphones of a patient’s family and loved ones. It’s called EASE, which stands for Electronic Access to Surgical Events, and it is manufactured by Ease Applications in Orlando. The app is available in the Apple and Android app stores free of charge for families to download. Healthcare facilities pay a monthly subscription fee to implement the app, which has a tiered pricing structure based on hospital bed size. There is a separate pricing for a single surgical department within a hospital and also separate pricing for surgery centers, based on volume.

The app is designed to do what its name implies: ease the minds of those who are waiting and worrying about a family member who’s undergoing surgery.

Jonathan Phillips, MD, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who performed Calvin’s operation, said, “Some of these procedures can go on four or five hours, and that can be really tough to deal with unless you’re getting decent information all the time. This app has really made a huge difference in the way we communicate during surgery.”

The app was developed by a pair of anesthesiologists in the cardiac unit of Arnold Palmer Hospital. “No matter how much we tried to reassure parents before surgery, we always got that same look of fear in their eyes as we took their children into the OR,” said Kevin de la Roza, MD, co-creator of EASE. “We thought there’s got to be a better way to communicate with them throughout this process.”

De la Roza teamed up with Hamish Munro, MD, who knew privacy for the patient was just as important as the information they were hoping to share with loved ones. Munro said, “We use 256-bit encryption for all messages both in transit and at rest,” which is the same level of security used in mobile banking transactions. “We also control user access, which means only the hospital can authorize people to use the app, and we all have special training to make sure we’re in compliance with HIPAA,” he said.

Also, like the popular photo-sharing application Snapchat, all messages and images sent through EASE are automatically deleted within 45 seconds.

For each operation, a circulating nurse is assigned a phone and is responsible for keeping track of the progress of the surgery and keeping the family informed. “We want it almost unnoticeable in the operating room,” said Munro. “Actually, the circulating nurse is already responsible for updating the family. This is just a different way to do it.”

Resource

Ease Applications, 2715 Meeting Place, Orlando, FL 32814. Telephone: (407)-308-4399. Web: http://www.easeapplications.com.