Virtual visits a life line for intensive care patients

Monday 7 June 2021

Georgia Prorok with husband John

A woman who spent almost a month in a coma after contracting COVID-19 says a virtual visiting app saved her life while she was recovering in hospital.

Georgia Prorok was transferred to the intensive care unit at Guy’s Hospital in March last year when her organs started to fail. Her husband, John, was unable to visit due to restrictions to reduce the spread of infection.

During her six weeks in intensive care the pair were handed a life line – the chance to see and speak to each other virtually thanks to a specially developed tablet app funded by the Life Lines project.

Georgia said: “It was like living a nightmare. I was scared when I woke up from the coma and all I wanted was my family to be by my bedside. Life Lines gave me some peace because it was the only line of communication I had with my husband and sister.”

The 45-year-old added: “The second or third time I used the tablet it saved my life. I had some dark moments and felt like I didn’t want to carry on, I didn’t have the strength. When I spoke to my husband and sister they were saying ‘do it for us’. It gave me the strength to carry on fighting for my life.” As well as facilitating a video call between Georgia and her family, Life Lines gave medical staff the opportunity to explain treatments and answer John’s questions.

Georgia, from Greenwich in south east London, said: “It was a rollercoaster for my family and there were times when they didn’t think I was going to make it. Life Lines allowed John to speak to the staff on a daily basis and to have reassurance from seeing me.”

As NHS services begin to return to normal and face-to-face visiting resumes in hospitals, the team behind Life Lines are exploring how they can continue to digitally enhance patient communication with their virtual visiting platform.

The Life Lines project was set up by Professor Louise Rose, professor of critical care nursing at King’s College London, and Dr Joel Meyer, critical care consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’.

They joined forces with Michael Paquet, the CEO of Aetonix, who helped them to modify the medical app aTouchAway, to create a secure virtual visiting platform for families whose loved ones are in intensive care units.

Working with BT and partners – including Google, Samsung, MobileIron and King’s Health Partners – it took 10 days to turn their idea into reality.

There are now 1,402 Android devices provided to 180 NHS hospitals across the UK. In just over a year, Life Lines has supported more than 100,000 video calls between families, patients and medical teams, which accounts for over 730,000 call minutes.

Professor Rose said: “When we started Life Lines, we had no idea it would grow to such a large and sustained initiative, with so many people going to such lengths to keep families connected with their loved ones.

“We have now reached another milestone of 100,000 family virtual visits. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped make this happen – we have brought comfort and relieved distress for thousands of families and patients across the UK.”

Dr Meyer said: “It’s fantastic to see how well Georgia is doing after being so unwell, and I’m so glad that the Life Lines project was able to support her, and her family, while she was being treated in intensive care.

“Each Life Lines video call has been an essential connection that might otherwise not have happened between a family and their loved one in intensive care. Brilliant, dedicated staff have ensured that families stay connected during exceptional pandemic times.

“Whilst Life Lines remains primarily a pandemic virtual visiting response, it has highlighted ways to digitally enhance intensive care. For instance, the Life Lines team is developing a programme to embed virtual visits into routine intensive care practice even after face-to-face visiting resumes.”

Georgia, who works in market research, spent almost seven months receiving treatment in two hospitals and a rehabilitation centre, and had to learn to walk and talk again.

She said: “Mentally and physically I’m doing increasingly well and it’s testament to all the NHS staff who cared for me and continue to help me. Every single one of them is a huge part of me being here and my recovery. It feels like I have been in a bad film but with a good ending.”

For more information about Life Lines, visit the King's Health Partners website.

Last updated: March 2022

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