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Northwell workers connecting to COVID-19 patients through new technology

A personal care aide at North Shore University

A personal care aide at North Shore University Hospital monitors an Amazon Echo Show. Credit: Northwell Health

Northwell Health is placing nearly 4,000 Amazon Echo Show devices and a few hundred other tablets in its hospitals to help doctors, nurses and other health professionals more frequently communicate with COVID-19 patients.

The tablets let caregivers speak to patients without needing to wear personal protective equipment, said Al Caligiuri, chief clinical information officer at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where the program was piloted as COVID-19 reached Long Island.

Doctors and nurses "can drop in on a patient more often and still decrease foot traffic into the rooms, which reduces the usage of PPEs," Caligiuri said. "I personally like that with two-way video, they can also see the clinician's face. The patients are living in isolation, and it's critically important for them to be able to communicate with people."

Northwell already has about 2,800 Echo Shows spread throughout its 19-hospital system,  which includes 11 hospitals on Long Island. It will add at least 1,000 more soon, Northwell added.

Echo Shows operate on Amazon's Alexa system. They cost between $69 and well over $200 on Amazon. Northwell didn't disclose how much it spent on the devices.

Doctors and nurses at North Shore University Hospital said the video screens have helped them connect with patients who could otherwise feel abandoned. Hospitals throughout the region, including Northwell, have banned visitors from the facilities to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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"I don't feel as rushed when I'm talking to patients," said Dr. Jessie Cohen of North Shore University Hospital. "It's helpful for me to be able to drop in more often and see how they're breathing. How are they talking? Do they seem labored? We can do that through video."

Cohen said the video system also has helped her quickly get interpreters to help when a patient's first language isn't English.

"There are nurses on the floor who speak other languages," she said. "They come over and it's taken care of."

The ability to check on patients more frequently also has lifted the spirits of clinicians, said Sarah Hughes, a nurse practitioner at North Shore University Hospital.

"It can be a highlight of the day," she said. 

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