In the neonatal intensive care unit, connections are critical. Webex helps it happen.

Cisco and Halifax, Nova Scotia’s IWK Health keep families, babies, and healthcare providers connected at a stressful time.
In the neonatal intensive care unit, connections are critical. Webex helps it happen.

Few experiences could be more distressing for a family than seeing their infant in a neonatal intensive care unit.

That’s why it’s essential for families to have the highest level of human connection, to health practitioners, whatever the challenges.

Cisco, in partnership with IWK Health in Halifax, Canada, and OnX Canada, is innovating new ways to do just that. Using world-class Webex collaboration solutions, they are ensuring that families continue to have access to health practitioners when unable to be with their baby allowing them to receive real-time medical information and support.

A combination of DX80 Webex units in the NICU rooms and video endpoints in staff meeting rooms provide state-of-the-art audio and visual quality for video conferences, while reducing infant and family exposure to larger groups. Family members who are unable to physically be in the NICU all the time can securely connect to a Webex meeting on any device, enabling them to stay abreast of developments — or simply watch over, speak to, or sing to their babies.

At the same time, families have access to the Chez NICU Home app, a web-based education platform that provides evidence-based resources and supports parents at every stage of a baby’s journey through neonatal intensive care and beyond.

“For our families, it’s very overwhelming,” said Andrea Melanson, IWK Health’s neonatal intensive care unit discharge planning coordinator. “Sometimes the mother is too unwell to be in-person in the NICU. And especially through the pandemic, with the extra restrictions, many babies could not be close to their families.”

Like all babies, those in a NICU need that bonding experience with their families and vice versa. And even if they can’t be held, the voices of their parents and families are a good way to start that bonding process. Cisco’s collaboration technologies, featuring best-in-class video, audio, and security features provide the closest thing to being there for families.

“This technology has afforded our families the ability to connect,” Melanson said. “Because we are a regional centre of excellence, we have families from across Atlantic Canada in our unit. And sometimes the families just can’t stay here all the time, especially if their baby is here for months at a time.”

Even nearby families wind up juggling responsibilities, adding to an already high-stress situation.

“The separation from other siblings is another consideration in terms of the stress levels of parents,” said Lisa DeWolfe, IWK Health’s project manager for innovation, technology and redevelopment. “One mother was grateful because she could still participate in virtual clinical rounds in the mornings while looking after her other children, before joining her newborn in the afternoons or evenings. Otherwise, she would have felt torn not being able to be in two places at once and having to make a difficult choice.”

Pictured above: Jessica Burke with her newborn Jackson Burke. Image by Ryan Wilson, IWK Health.

A partnership built on trust, innovation, and caring

Chez NICU Home was developed with the support and financial contribution from the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the IWK Foundation, which was announced on March 1, 2017.

“This project represents Government of Canada support working as intended – translating innovative collaborations into real-time applications with life-saving implications,” said Andy Fillmore, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and Member of Parliament for Halifax. “But the incalculably important benefit is the reassurance, the connection and the peace of mind it provides the parents of children at their most vulnerable during an emotional and challenging time for the entire family. There is an equal emphasis on health and care in this equation, as it should be.”

Cisco has worked with more than 17,000 health care organizations globally, to bring them innovative, holistic solutions. These have included solutions in everything from security and data management to inventory management and remote care. So, when IWK Health was looking for a partner, Cisco was a natural choice.

“Virtual care is changing the way we deliver health care in Canada for the better,” said Sarah Reuter, general manager of Webex for Cisco Canada. “Technology helps us to dissolve geographies and boundaries, while removing barriers to access for those who may live in rural or remote locations, aren’t able to leave their home or simply need the flexibility that virtual care offers.”

Of course, partnerships are built on more than just great technology. Communication and support were essential elements of the project’s success, especially through the most difficult months of the pandemic.

“There was innovating, of conversation, and support during a challenging time” said DeWolfe. “When we couldn’t meet in person or have a hands-on demonstration of the technologies, we were able to work it out virtually. It was a very supportive and engaging process.”

A revolution in hybrid health care

Cisco’s obsession with security was a key factor for IWK Health, especially in an industry where sensitive patient data and privacy are of paramount importance.

“I was impressed with the level of security around Webex,” DeWolfe stressed

DeWolfe is excited about the revolution in hybrid healthcare that is changing the industry, for neonatal intensive care and so much more.

“Even though being physically present is obviously the best for the baby, it is great that we can offer a virtual platform where parents can safely join remotely,” said DeWolfe. “This hopefully reduces the anxiety families often feel when they can’t be with their baby for periods of time for a variety of reasons. We’re helping them to keep connected in a different way.”

By enabling people to be present, from anywhere at any time, Webex serves the ultimate goal: helping families through an incredibly challenging time. “It makes coping a little bit more manageable,” said Melanson.


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