NewYork-Presbyterian crafts walkie-talkie and app-based program to foster communication between coronavirus patients, families 

To more easily help COVID-19 patients connect with their families, NewYork-Presbyterian physicians have rigged and deployed children's walkie-talkie devices across 10 care units through its new VoiceLove Project program, according to Fast Company

Marc Schiffman, MD, vascular and interventional radiologist at New York City-based Weill Cornell Medicine, and Tamatha Fenster, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist at NewYork- Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine, crafted the new version of the device in April as a low-cost way for families of coronavirus patients to communicate with their loved ones. 

The walkie-talkie connects to an app, which patients' families can download on their personal phones to speak to the patient without the patient having to touch the device. The app can also be used by multiple people, so if, for example, the patient wants to hear from a minister or rabbi, that person can download the app and contact the patient's walkie-talkie. And if a patient is able, they can press the button on the back of the walkie-talkie to communicate back through the speaker. 

The physicians told Fast Company the walkie-talkie is an alternative to video chats via iPhones and iPads, which nurses have to facilitate. This increased nurses' exposure to sick patients and required additional personal protective equipment when supplies were limited. Additionally, some family members requested not to do video chats with their loved ones because seeing them with tubes coming out of their bodies was "disturbing," according to the report. 

Drs. Fenster and Schiffman developed additional features to make the walkie-talkie better designed for hospital use and convinced the developing company, Relay, to waive monthly subscription costs for its patients. Dr. Fenster worked with an industrial designer to create a casing for the device that prevents contamination and attaches it to a hospital bed for easy access for the patient. Weill Cornell Medicine now owns the intellectual property related to the device's clam shell case, but Drs. Fenster and Schiffman said they hope the device can be used as a model for other hospitals and nursing home residents who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases. 

"It's funny because initially we were talking about all these sophisticated walkie-talkie things and then we come upon this children’s device," Dr. Fenster said. "The simplicity of it was actually one of the best things, because if you did have someone who had Alzheimer’s or, you know, had just woken up and was very weak, there’s no thought involved. It’s just one button that they have to push." 

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