National

Japan hospital app lets nurses help isolated COVID-19 patients from afar

Kyodo

A tech start-up is offering a smartphone application to hospitals that allows coronavirus patients to communicate their needs to nurses without physical interaction, lowering the risk of cluster infections.

Hospital patients usually use the nurse call button when they need something, but those admitted with COVID-19 are placed in isolation wards to keep physical contact with nurses to a minimum to prevent the virus from sickening the staff as well.

The app, developed by Opere, a company established by former nurse Yuka Sawada, lets patients ask nurses to buy things from shops on their behalf, request changes to meal quantities and record their body temperatures. Whatever is inputted appears immediately on screens at the nurses’ stations.

Apart from endangering the staff and other patients, clusters infections can also force hospitals to turn away outpatients and emergency patients.

Sawada, 32, said the idea for the app arose from her own experience at a hospital when she gave birth. She found it inconvenient that the call button was the only way to get in touch with the nurses.

The app, which has been installed in several hospitals, divides the requests into different categories, reflecting data on patients’ needs gathered from interviews with hospitals.

Nissan Tamagawa Hospital in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, which installed the app in May, has received positive feedback.

One patient told the hospital that, for fear of infecting others, “I would have hesitated to call the nurse for something trivial.”

The app also helps nurses work more efficiently. They can now deal with several requests at once, such as by using meal-delivery times to respond to their other needs.

“It is necessary to reduce human interaction and protect the safety of staff at the same time, while keeping track of the patient’s situation and demands given the hospital’s limited time and resources,” said Yumiko Takahashi, the director of nurses at the hospital.

She said the app makes it easier for patients to make requests but added she hopes patients continue to use the call button for emergencies.

However, there are concerns that patients’ requests could increase the nurses’ workload.

“I would like to continue to update the app to support frontline nurses working at the risk of being infected,” Sawada said.

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