Virtual Observation – How Virtual Sitters Lift the Spirits of Isolated Patients

Written by Sharon Nicole Daugherty

Nobody wants to get sick. It’s a tough road that includes getting diagnosed, choosing a healthcare provider, receiving treatment, managing medication, and enduring after care. For the patient, getting well is the most important thing, but the road to recovery can be long and difficult. Many times, the only thing that can lift the spirits of a patient is the smiling face and conversation of a visitor to their room or home. But for people dealing with long-term illnesses or communicable diseases, visitation is not an option. They spend most of their time alone, and that isolation is a challenge that can be a major impediment to the healing process.

As a patient goes through treatment for serious illness or injury, the loneliness of being at home or in a hospital room all day can really take their toll. Anxiety, depression, and fear set in, and with no relief, those can grow into more chronic emotional challenges. Patients need to play an active role in their care, but depression can rob them of the motivation to fight for their health.

In addition to the emotional impact of isolation, there are several associated physical ailments, from high blood pressure to diabetes, as well as a weakened immune system — none of which are ideal when a person is trying to heal from their primary condition. Healthcare providers are realizing that for patients in isolation, treatment needs to reach beyond the physical to also address the patient’s mental and emotional needs.

Healthcare providers that use Virtual Observation with tools like MedSitter have begun leveraging the two-way audio/visual units to provide patients with the emotional support that comes from something as simple as a conversation with another person. The functions of observation units are all based on communication between the Sitter and everyone involved in the patient’s care – the clinical staff, other Sitters, and of course, the patient. Observation units aid better communication by giving Sitters access to tools that reduce communication barriers they might deal with in person:

  • Two-way audio/visual units transform the style of communication. At one time, patients could only rely on a voice in the air from the nurse’s station. Observation units have visual and audio capabilities that create a two-way exchange between patient and sitter. The patient can enjoy things we often take for granted, like seeing a person’s face and experiencing their reactions in a conversation. Connections like this can make a person remember the human experience they can return to when they are well.
  • Language translation – Observation units like those offered by MedSitter are pre-loaded with dozens of spoken prompts that cover many of the issues and questions that come up when interacting with a patient. The units can be set to the patient’s language so that the spoken prompt can be translated. Since language can be a very frustrating barrier in patient care, this function can create a comfort level that reduces patient anxiety.
  • American Sign-Language is a feature that can open communication between deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, for whom communication in the hearing world is already a challenge.

There are so many ways to make the patient experience better. For patients with conditions that require isolation, the connection with other people is worth considering as part of their treatment and recovery. And using observation stations like MedSitter assist with providing that support without risking the health of the patient or the clinical staff. Instead of just directing the patient to avoid dangerous behaviors or helping them with medical requests, Sitters engage in conversation with patients, helping them to feel not so alone.

Using communication to combat patient isolation appears to be working. In recent feedback, an irritated tried to pull the cords connected to his monitor. The Sitter used the communication tool to ask if the patient was okay; the patient replied that he just wanted someone to talk to. The Sitter remained present and calmed the patient down just by having a pleasant chat. In another hospital, a senior patient that had become depressed from spending so much time alone was able to talk with a nurse until he reported feeling better and his spirits were visibly better. The benefits of virtual observation reach across the spectrum of care, supporting patients, sitters, and providers.

As treatment of the whole patient becomes a more prominent approach to care, more hospitals and other clinicians are introducing virtual observation. With the Covid-19 as a new development that has created more isolation, the use of virtual observation is proving to be a valuable healthcare tool in more ways than one.