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Interactive TV at UNC Hospitals Promotes Connection During COVID-19 Pandemic

May 12, 2021

Music is the MedicineCARY and CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (May 12, 2021) – 

Hospitals across the nation have limited visitation policies with patients since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Patient care protocols also limited clinical staff interaction at the bedside. Necessary safety precautions during a pandemic had a significant impact on the patient experience, often resulting in feelings of isolation and disconnection among hospitalized individuals.

UNC Hospitals discovered that a key to improving the patient experience is readily available and often underutilized by hospitals: in-room televisions. Part of their patient experience initiatives included collaborating with TeleHealth Services, the nation’s leading provider of interactive patient experience solutions that integrate patient televisions, entertainment, and relaxation content for hospitals and clinics.

“COVID-19 has introduced new sources of stress for patients,” said Tracy Carroll, director of inpatient heart and vascular services and liaison for the Patient Education Committee at UNC Hospitals. “Normally, there are more people in and out of hospital rooms. Now staff enter less frequently, and are in full PPE for COVID patients. They can’t see our faces which can be unsettling, especially for those who are confused or anxious.”  

UNC Hospitals Volunteer Coordinator Jodie Skoff explains that many patients have felt lonely and isolated. “When the pandemic began, we limited patients to one guest in the room at all times – which in turn limited a major source of distraction, entertainment, and comfort. It was a big change for patients.” No visitors were allowed for COVID-19 patients.

As the most watched space in the hospital room, TV was a logical tool for improving the patient experience at UNC Hospitals. In addition to entertainment, TeleHealth Services’ Tigr Interactive Patient Engagement System provided video on-demand and scheduled broadcast functionality. The system was primarily used to deliver video-based health education prior to the pandemic, but with the arrival of COVID-19, UNC Hospitals explored creative uses of the system to support patients’ psychosocial needs. For example:

Virtual Pet Therapy – A special video was created for the Tigr system from photos and video clips provided by the volunteers of Tar Heal Paws, the hospital’s animal-assisted activity program. The video not only brought joy to patients and staff, but gave the volunteers an opportunity to do something meaningful for patients. “When they had to stop visiting on-site, they still wanted to contribute and be involved,” Skoff said.

Musical Performances from UNC DooR to DooR program – Prior to the pandemic, the performing artists of UNC’s DooR to DooR program would visit the hospital to share live music, storytelling, and other therapeutic experiences using the arts. After visitor restrictions were imposed due to COVID, the DooR to DooR program filmed a two-hour concert, “Music is the Medicine” featuring the hospital’s most beloved and requested performers. The video was shared through the Tigr system, allowing patients to view the concert in the comfort of their hospital rooms.

Teaching Children – At the UNC Children’s Hospital, the UNC Hospital School serves to help children stay on track academically while they are in the hospital. With restrictions limiting bedside visits, the pandemic challenged schoolteachers to make greater use of technology to connect with patients. A team of teachers and the school librarian recorded videos of themselves reading their students’ books out loud. The videos were shared with patients through the Tigr system.  Principal of UNC Hospitals School Marny Ruben said the opportunity to use TV was especially helpful for keeping younger children engaged.

Relaxation and Sleep – The pandemic magnified the challenge of patients getting adequate sleep in the hospital. “We often hear from patients that they use white noise to sleep soundly at home,” Carroll said. “We provided the same experience in the hospital through the Tigr system. The screen is darkened to keep lighting low and ambient sounds play through the TV to mask hospital noise and soothe patients into a relaxed state.” The hospital also provides nature-themed relaxation videos to watch anytime.

Patient Education – The Labor and Delivery Department at UNC Women’s Hospital also faced challenges once COVID-19 protocols restricted bedside contact between staff and patients. When asked to minimize paper-based educational materials in patient rooms for infection control purposes, UNC nurses created educational videos with information in English and Spanish to support patients through labor and delivery.  The patients appreciated the videos, which were instrumental in helping the hospital keep the C-section rates within standards, contrary to a national trend of increased C-sections during the pandemic. UNC Hospital’s Diabetes Care and Education specialists also created their own videos to help patients learn about their glucose meters and insulin pens.  “They help me save time by familiarizing patients with the basics, and I can better individualize their patient education at the bedside,” said a UNC diabetes education specialist.

“One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has shown us just how much we can do virtually,” Carroll said. As UNC Hospital’s Tigr system has the capacity to host custom-produced content and the capability to deliver it on-demand or on a schedule, the system offers the flexibility to quickly respond to changing needs and priorities – throughout the pandemic and beyond.

About UNC Hospitals

UNC Hospitals is the flagship facility of UNC Health. The 951-bed non-profit, nationally ranked, public research and academic medical center is located in Chapel Hill, N.C. The facility includes N.C. Memorial Hospital, N.C. Cancer Hospital, N.C. Women’s Hospital, N.C. Neurosciences Hospital, N.C. Children’s Hospital, and the UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus.

To learn more check out the accompanying UNC Hospitals Case Study.