NUI Galway Research Fellows and UHG staff introduce video calling system using Cisco software and hardware donated by Cisco with the free support of IBM volunteers and the wider Galway community

University Hospital Galway (UHG) has introduced a new video call system known as ICU FamilyLink which will enable contact between families, patients and the clinical teams providing care. This is particularly important as currently visitors are not permitted in the hospital, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


When the visiting restrictions were introduced in early March, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team in Galway appreciated that it was going to be very difficult to keep families and patients in the ICU updated and connected, particularly where family members may be in physical isolation in different locations. In an effort to address these challenges, the ICU team at UHG reached out to its academic partners in NUI Galway, who in turned reached out to industry contacts in Galway and beyond.


NUI Galway, Cisco and IBM assembled a team to answer the call and working closely with the ICU and Clinical Engineering teams in UHG, have rapidly developed a state-of-the-art video call system specifically for the ICU setting. The systems runs on the hospital’s Cisco Enterprise Wireless Network using Cisco Webex Meetings software and Cisco Webex Devices donated from Cisco’s software development office in Oranmore. The secure system is designed for easy setup where close family members are invited by the nurse looking after the patient, to see and speak to their loved one. ICU FamilyLink also enables staff to advise the family and discuss medical and treatment issues that arise.


The project is supported by a team of IBM volunteers who are available by phone to family members to offer any technical support. The system is complemented by Apple iPads to facilitate staff-to-staff Webex video calls. All the equipment and expertise required to get this system operational has been kindly donated by the collaborators and a wider set of supportive organisations.


Commenting Chris Kane, Hospital Manager said, “We are very grateful to everyone who has given their time and expertise to support the delivery of such an important project in such a short timeframe. The last number of weeks have been very difficult for patients in ICU and their families; the staff recognised this and wanted to do something to support them.”


Ann Conroy, Clinical Nurse Manager 3 who works in the ICU in UHG said, “The system was designed and implemented to make it as easy as possible for the nurse caring for the patient to use safely and securely. This was based on listening to the nurses and addressing the needs that we identified. The simplicity of the unit is what makes this such a success for the nurses who are busy caring for the patient and for the families who are at home. Also the quality of the video image is excellent which means it is as close as a family member will get to being in the ICU.”


Mrs Maura McNamara, the wife of a patient from Galway City who was treated in the ICU said, “We got an opportunity to use the video conferencing system to keep in touch with my husband while he was in the ICU. It was fantastic to get to see him and how he was doing and get updates from the nurses. It is difficult not being able to visit the hospital and this was the next best thing to being there.”


Irial Conroy and Dr Aoife Murray, both NUI Galway Research Fellows said, “In Galway we are fortunate to have existing partnerships between UHG, NUI Galway, Tech and MedTech companies. This meant that a team could be formed in less than a day, and the project could be delivered in less than 3 weeks. Having a mix of medical and technical skills on the core team, was key to introducing this into the complex hospital setting. The hospital staff were key in advocating the needs of patients and families.”


David Bermingham, Director of AI Applications, IBM Ireland, commented, “COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for frontline medical professionals and patients’ families who cannot visit loved ones in hospital. I am very grateful to all the IBM volunteers who are dedicating time as part of the team to help set up and customise the experience to make it easy for families to stay connected in difficult times.”


“The frontline medics are the real heroes here; we’re just proud to play our small part. Deploying a solution like this across multiple organisations would typically take months. However, through collaboration and commitment, we were able to do this far faster, to help patients and their loved ones stay connected during these exceptional times. I’m grateful to all the skilled volunteers who made this happen”, added Keith Griffin, Site Leader, Cisco Galway.


This initiative would not have been possible without Irial Conroy (NUI Galway and IBM), Dr Aoife Murray (NUI Galway), Brian O’Donoghue (Cisco), Breda McColgan (IBM), PJ McKenna (IBM), Frank Kirrane (GUH), Leonie Cullen (GUH), Dr Bairbre McNicholas (GUH), GUH IT department, Cisco, IBM and wider GUH, NUI Galway staff and other organisations that kindly provided support.

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