A new surgical cellphone app introduced to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is a cut above the rest.

Family members can use the app to receive real-time photos, text messages and video updates from the operating room during their loved one’s surgery.

“Before, we would have to send runners or telephone the waiting room. This is virtually instantaneous,” Dr. Wayne Meredith, chairman of surgery at Baptist said Thursday. “The first taste of this has been delicious, and the acceptance by families has been terrific.”

Baptist is the first hospital in the state to incorporate the app, EASE (Electronic Access to Surgical Events), into surgical procedures.

The free app, which can be downloaded to any smartphone, has HIPAA-compliant, online banking-level security that ensures privacy is protected.

“Right now, it’s text messages, but as we get more mature with it, we can send video and direct audio messages from surgeons,” Meredith said. “We can say ‘Here’s a picture of the gallstones’… The possibilities are endless.”

The app, which can be shared with an unlimited amount of designated friends and family, is aimed at reducing anxiety for those who are waiting for news.

During surgeries, a nurse in the operating room can send text message updates to families, like “He’s off to sleep,” “Things are going well” and “A surgeon will be out to talk to you in 10 minutes.”

Updates occur at the discretion of clinical staff members, who use designated iPod-Touch devices to communicate with families.

“Let’s say someone is deployed in Afghanistan and their wife is a high-risk pregnancy. They can see a 30-second video of their new baby,” said James Thomas with the hospital’s surgical service administration. “We’re just starting to see where we can go with this.”

Available in nine languages, the app’s messages disappear from the phone within 60 seconds of being viewed.

Family members and friends can send thumbs-up, heart and praying hands emojis in response to each update but cannot reply to the messages with questions or comments.

If surgical complications arise, they will be discussed in-person by a physician, nurse or other appropriate staff member.

“Anything complicated, you want to be able to talk in person and answer their questions,” Meredith said. “You can’t do that in a text message or one-way video.”

The hospital has been working on getting the app since nurse manager Cindy Harless stumbled upon it at a nursing conference in 2017.

She said the app, which went into use last week, has been an outright success.

“It’s been termed Snapchat for the OR. I thought ‘This is what we need,’” Harless said. “We’re very proud of it. The staff is loving it, and the patients and their families really love it.”

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