Connecting parents with premmie babies for Christmas

New video-streaming technology is helping parents stay connected with their premmie babies during extended hospital stays.

Developed by telemedicine researchers at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, the technology lets parents watch live video of their babies using a mobile phone app.

The technology is being trialled at The Townsville Hospital inside their neonatal intensive care unit.

Samantha Hayden, mother to pre-term twins Zachary and Sebastian who have spent the first weeks of their lives in The Townsville Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, has been trialling the video-streaming app and said she loves being able to see her boys whenever she wants.

“If I get up in the middle of the night, I can turn on my phone and see my boys wriggling and moving,” Ms Hayden said. “I’m immediately reassured.”

CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre CEO Dr David Hansen said the technology aimed to help parents who were often faced with the difficult reality of having to leave their baby behind in hospital when they returned home.

Dr Hansen said this solution was one of a wave of digital health technologies being developed to revolutionise healthcare in Australia.

“This affordable solution has been engineered with privacy and security features and uses the mobile phones families already have – which makes the technology widely accessible,” Dr Hansen said.

“While all Australians will benefit from digital health technologies, their ability to provide equity of access to health services for rural and remote Australia will be profound.”

Once the app is installed on the parent’s phone, they are able to securely log in and watch a live-streaming video of their baby in his or her cot in the NICU.

The Townsville Hospital’s neonatal specialist Dr Yoga Kandasamy said of the 900 premmie babies treated annually in the NICU, about a third were from regional and remote parts of north and north-west Queensland.

“These babies are often with us for many months,” Dr Kandasamy said.

“Parents have only two choices: uproot and move to Townsville, or become temporarily separated from their babies.”

More than 35 parents have used the app to stay connected with their babies while in care since the trial started at The Townsville Hospital in early 2018.

The Townsville Hospital will be analysing trial data to explore whether the technology helped with parent-infant attachment and helped reduce parents’ worry.

Once the trial is complete, CSIRO is hoping to make the technology generally available.

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