Northwell Teams up with Amazon to Connect COVID-19 Patients, Doctors using Devices

Northwell Health is ensuring safe communication at its 23 hospitals between COVID-19 patients and healthcare professionals through a system of 4,700 Amazon Echo Show 5s, Echo Show 8s, and Fire Tablets. The system, set up by Northwell’s information technology department, is a result of collaboration between Northwell and Amazon. Amazon donated over half the devices, wrote scripts to link them, and provided initial technical support. 

“Using the Echo Show and Fire Tablet allows me to have relaxed conversations where I am engaged with the patient. I can touch base with them and relieve their anxiety. The devices make follow-ups throughout the day much easier,” said Dr. Jessica Cohen of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. 

Cohen said the devices allow doctors and nurses to check important markers of health, such as whether a patient is pale or flushed. 

Cohen added the devices reduce the need for personal protective equipment and the amount of time healthcare staff have to spend getting into and out of protective suits. 

“When the crisis first hit, we had so many COVID-19 patients that we had to quickly make non-ICU rooms over into ICU rooms. These units were not all glass. We knew we had to keep eyes on the patients. The Amazon devices helped us decrease exposure to staff and improve the patient experience,” said Al Caligiuri, chief clinical information officer for North Shore University Hospital and Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital. 

Northwell chose the Amazon devices over iPads because the Echo Shows do not require a patient to touch the device for a doctor to interact, said Don Fleming, vice president and regional chief information officer for Northwell’s IT client services department. 

“Echo Shows have a drop-in feature that allows instant access. With it, the device works almost like an intercom. (It) allows a doctor to press a button to speak with and see the patient without the patient having to do anything,” said Fleming. 

Fleming said the Amazon devices are an interim solution. 

Northwell deployed the Echo Shows to provide constant observation for monitoring patients as needed. The solution worked well, but the devices are not designed for night-time use. 

“(This meant) we need to provide ambient light, like leaving on an under-the-cabinet light, to see a patient in the dark. This isn’t ideal because it can interrupt sleep. (Yet) for a consumer grade device, the Echo Show accomplishes a lot,” said Fleming. 

Fleming said the Amazon devices’ other advantages include being easy to set up and make secure, and not overloading hospitals’ WiFi networks. 

Sarah Hughes, a nurse practitioner at North Shore University Hospital, said tools like the Echo Shows and Fire Tablets significantly decrease isolation. 

“Around one fifth of the patients I saw on the floor wound up in the ICU. You can’t underestimate the importance of communication for these patients and their families. With the Amazon Echo Shows and Fire Tables, we were able to update both the patients and their loved ones more frequently and easily,” said Hughes.