When COVID-19 restricted visitors at hospitals across the country, Vocera Ease helped loved ones go inside.
Anyone who has experienced having a family member or friend go to the hospital for surgery knows how hard it is to wait for that loved one to return from the operating room. All too often, there are very few, or no, updates from the care team on the status of the procedure until it is over – which can be hours. The pandemic made the waiting and wondering worse. COVID-related safety protocols prohibited family members from accompanying patients inside the hospital, adding to feelings of anxiety, frustration and lack of control.
Local doctors and entrepreneurs aimed to address those feelings through Vocera Ease, a secure mobile application, that enables nurses, doctors and other care team members to send real-time texts, photos and video updates to patients’ friends and families. The app also allows secure two-way video conferencing. While many hospitals used this technology well before COVID-19, the pandemic revealed how powerful technology can be in restoring human connections in healthcare.
“One care team used the app to share some inspiring news with the family of a COVID-19 patient who was on a ventilator,” says Patrick de la Roza, senior vice president and general manager of the Vocera Ease business unit. “When he was extubated, the care team sent a video of him breathing on his own to his family. I can’t think of a more meaningful and impactful update.”
Vocera Ease uses encrypted technology to ensure secure communication, but that doesn’t mean it’s impersonal. After downloading the free app and following a simple registration process, the patient selects personal contact who can receive the Ease updates. The app enables care team members to send messages in multiple languages with message templates. Family members and friends can respond to the updates with emojis. The updates disappear 60 seconds after viewing and nothing is saved on the mobile device, providing an additional layer of security and privacy.
“Vocera Ease brings what we already do in everyday life to the healthcare space – communicate through messages and photos. At a time like this, it’s more essential than ever to feel connected. Once you’ve had an experience with the app, you can’t go back to worrying in a waiting room,” de la Roza explains.
The pursuit of restoring human connections in healthcare is exactly how Vocera became interested in acquiring the Ease app. A Vocera customer saw a demonstration of the product and was fascinated by what it could do.
“When we met with the company’s founders, we quickly realized the driving force behind the app was both people and technology,” says Brent Lang, chairman and CEO of Vocera. “It is a fundamentally different approach to thinking about how caregivers interact with patients and their loved ones. The app was created for the sole purpose of keeping families and friends at ease during stressful times.”
Patrick de la Roza co-founded Ease with three local doctors in 2013, and Orlando Health was one of the first to adopt the technology. Vocera acquired Ease Applications in August 2020. Since then, the Orlando-based unit of Vocera has more than doubled its staff and is relocating its offices to a new 5,083-square-foot space in Landmark Center in the downtown area.
“When we got the call from Vocera, it was exciting. We didn’t know what to expect at first, but it quickly became clear that we were on the same mission to improve the lives of patient. families and care teams,” says de la Roza. “Working with Vocera means we are now part of a publicly-traded company with more resources. We are able to make a larger and broader impact.”
Before the pandemic and becoming part of Vocera, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, according to de la Roza. Many hospitals were slow to consider deploying the app because of other technology or operational priorities.
“COVID-19 pulled back the curtain and revealed the many benefits of the Ease app and how it can improve patient, family and care team experience and connectivity,” de la Roza says. “It’s been tough telling a health system it’s arcane to leave families in a waiting room for hours with little to no information, except an occasional update on a surgery board. After witnessing the impact of visitor restrictions and needing to redesign family communication, many hospital administrators have come back to us and said, ‘We’re ready. Let’s do this.’”
The restrictions further complicated hospital processes and made it tougher for families to get timely updates, which resulted in even more phone calls to care teams from anxious family members. The volume of calls and information requests overwhelmed many healthcare workers who were already overloaded. The app helped reduce the number of calls and interruptions at many hospitals.
“I really believe Vocera Ease is a disruptive technology doing profound good, especially during a time like this,” adds de la Roza.
The evidence is not just anecdotal. The number of health systems using the app continues to grow as does where and how they use it. Beyond surgical suites and operating rooms, care teams are using the Ease app in the emergency room, NICU, ICU, cath lab, radiology and many other inpatient and outpatient areas. Care teams using Vocera Ease since the acquisition have sent more than 520,000 messages across all 50 states, and patients’ loved ones have responded with more than 1.3 million emojis.
“For us, success is measured by how many lives are positively impacted by Ease updates,” Lang says. “When we see stories in the news and social posts from family members saying how grateful they are to have the app and receive Ease updates about their loved ones, that’s when we know we are doing a true good.”