Look me up! – virtual visits in the NICU

a guest article by Dr Till Dresbach, Senior Physician for pediatrics and youth medicine at the University Hospital Bonn, Germany

In pediatrics, preterm born infants are the group of patients with the longest period of hospitalisation. To most families affected the situation in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is very debilitating. Besides a general feeling of helplessness, irregular rooming-in due to architectural shortcomings in NICUs are another issue. The UN Convention on Children’s Rights from 1989 states that no child must be separated from their parents against their will, and the Association for Children in Hospital (EACH) recommends to accommodate parents in suitable premises near to their child, yet no NICU in Germany is currently able to take these claims fully into account. Even though there has been a paradigm shift in neonatal practises allowing parents – almost nationwide – unlimited visiting hours, a lack of space in the NICU counteracts a best practise of family-centred care for preterm infants.

In situations when parents cannot be physically close to their child, cameras with web-based video-streaming systems offer virtual visits from home or en route. Having the option of a “virtual visit“ empowers parents and enhances their competences. First of all, the stress level amongst parents decreases, as a mother stated: “Before I go to bed, I have another quick look at my son. I get all calm when I see him lying peacefully in his bed.”. Secondly, siblings who very often have to cope with the absence of at least on parental unit, are also expected to benefit from this step. The video-streaming-service is introduced to the parents on admittance or during the first days in the NICU. If parents want to make use of this additional service, they get a thorough introduction to the video-system. Via a secured online-platform they will be able to watch their child on camera. Parents will access this platform using an individual password and watch their baby via live-connection. It is possible to log in from all mobile devices with a steady internet connection. Due to data and personal security, video streaming will be encoded. The system does not safe picture files or broadcast audio signals. The camera is adjusted in a position that does neither show health data/protected health information nor vital data on monitors or the like. Moreover, a solution for video streaming in the NICU must comply with German data protection regulations.

Video-streaming in the NICU will not solve the structural problems existing in neonatal units in Germany, however it is another aspect of neonatal care and a further step towards a maximum of transparency regarding medical care and aftercare for the smallest of our patients.


Special thanks to Dr Till Dresbach