Snapchat Surgery: The Doctors Sending Video Updates Mid-Operation
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you could be getting a full view of your loved one’s next surgery.
Though it was only a minor surgery, Dawn Lipthrott says there’s really no such thing when it’s being performed on a loved one, especially when the patient is over the age of 90. When her friend of 45 years and “second mother” Maria Boudet had a pacemaker replaced at Orlando Health hospital in May 2017, Lipthrott had the unenviable responsibility of spending the day in the waiting room.
In the past, she would have waited several hours before a surgeon arrived with a brief update, which she’d then have to translate for the patient’s anxious but absent family members. Not anymore. Instead, she got messages from inside the operating room straight to her smartphone — and so did everyone else who wanted them, whether they were down the hall, at school or in another part of the world. “It was like night and day from what I had experienced before,” Lipthrott says. “I just loved it.”
Now in 57 hospitals, the Electronic Access to Surgical Events (or EASE) technology is revolutionizing waiting rooms from coast to coast — as long as you can stomach a close-up view of Grandma’s gallstones. It’s the brainchild of Kevin and Patrick de la Roza, brothers who took vastly different paths in life only to end up in the same place.
Kevin de la Roza, a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, witnessed daily the frustration and helplessness of parents and caregivers waiting for information from the operating room. But the spark came six years ago when the hospital used social media to provide updates on a heart surgery being performed on an infant as part of a marketing campaign, then another parent asked the hospital for a similar service.
Just give people information on their loved one, and people will be incredibly grateful.
Patrick de la Roza
The “overwhelming” response led Kevin and his partners, Hamish Munro and William DeCampli, to conduct a study with 50 families. Kevin knew he wanted his experiment to go even further but didn’t have the expertise to build it out. Fortunately, his brother Patrick did.
The brothers come from a long line of physicians who began practicing long ago in Cuba. Patrick and Kevin’s great-grandfather was the head physician for the province of Havana and was given the opportunity to study at the New York Hospital in Manhattan after successfully treating then Cuban President Fulgencio Batista’s gastric ulcer. The family fled Cuba during the Castro Revolution of the 1950s.
After a childhood of brotherly bickering and roughhousing, Patrick and Kevin finally learned to play nice as roommates at the University of Florida. They learned to play the guitar together, started a band and even performed at a few bars around town. The brothers still argue over who’s the better athlete but are now more likely to let their kids duke it out for them.
While Kevin, 43, went on to Chicago Medical School and then a residency at Cornell, Patrick quickly discovered that he didn’t have the stomach for medicine. “I’m squeamish with blood,” he admits. Instead, Patrick began his career in real estate, until the market crash of 2008 sent him looking for a less volatile industry. After earning an MBA, Patrick, now 41, ended up in health care marketing and administration, where he wasn’t at risk of seeing any blood.
In 2013, Kevin, Munro and DeCampli approached Patrick with the idea for EASE. Other services offer some form of digital communication between the operating room and waiting room, but they remain text-only, with messages such as “patient in pre-op.” That’s a far cry from video of a newborn’s heart monitor beeping normally for the first time. The secure, one-way messages come via an app, which assigns the patient a unique QR code.
Clinicians pair that code to the patient’s hospital wristband, which they scan to send the updates to recipients whom the patient selects. Loved ones can react with emojis, and the app reminds nurses and clinicians to send an update every 30 minutes. The real-time updates have even been used by soldiers in war zones.
“For all this modernization that the hospital operating room has had over the last century — whether MRI or radiology or other high-tech advancements — the waiting room hasn’t changed at all,” Patrick says. “Traditionally it’s been a horrible, cramped little room with many chairs and other people feeling that same anxiety, that fear, that not knowing, that lack of control. And you’re all staring at each other passing the time.”
EASE stays on the right side of medical privacy laws by encrypting the information, and the app automatically deletes updates after one minute, a little like Snapchat. Not every piece of news from the operating room is going to be positive, but EASE leaves it up to the clinician’s discretion to decide whether information should be shared by the app or in person. The two brothers say the images provide a complete play-by-play of the operation, with as much or as little detail and intimate information the clinicians decide to share, based on the pre-op conversation with future recipients. Pictures can include patients falling asleep under anesthesia or shots of their X-rays; videos can be a surgeon discussing her work or a heart beating after it’s repaired.
Two months after it was implemented, independent studies found that EASE increased hospital ratings by an average of 8 percent and the likelihood of patient recommendation — which can determine federal funding levels — by 22 percent. “When you look at the amount of money that hospitals are investing in fancy lobbies or waterfall features that really have no tangible impact on the experience, EASE is such a simple thing; just give people information on their loved one, and people will be incredibly grateful,” Patrick says. It also impacts the bottom line by saving doctors and nurses time from communicating with families in person.
EASE has been used during more than 300,000 procedures thus far but is still in less than 1 percent of America’s 6,210 hospitals. The cost of a yearly subscription to the software as a service tool ranges depending on the size of the hospital and can range from $20,000 to the high six figures.
“Health IT systems are, by their very nature, very complicated systems; that is why they sometimes take a while to modernize,” says Andrew Truscott, who leads health technology consulting for Accenture’s provider practice. “One of the challenges that happens is that those organizations need to interoperate within a fairly complicated system.”
The founders say they’re up to the challenge — and they’re thinking beyond surgeries, in the hopes that EASE can become the primary form of staff-caregiver communication throughout the hospital.
“Anywhere where you have a loved one, and you can’t be there all the time with them and you want information is an opportunity for EASE,” says Patrick. If all goes smoothly, the days of reading outdated magazines while nervously waiting for news will soon be gone.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of time before EASE deletes its updates. It’s one minute, not one hour.