New Phoenix Children’s Hospital Crib Cameras Give Families Window Into Infant Care

Published: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 5:01pm
Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 6:02pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
A demo bed shows how the camera extends over the bed and can be moved with a flexible arm.

Babies aren’t delivered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, but infants in need of intensive care are treated there. They sleep in small beds under soft lights, but instead of mobiles spinning above them, there are cameras. 

These cameras are used by people like Ashlee Minton, a fourth-grade teacher and a parent. She calls her first pregnancy a  “textbook pregnancy.”

“She was normal, vaginal birth, all that kind of normal stuff,” Minton said.

Her daughter, Elizabeth, is three now.

“And then with my son, everything was completely different.”

Michael required an emergency cesarean section, and he had health complications. He still does. It’s been eight months, and he’s never been home. Instead, the Mintons have been to three different hospitals, trying to figure out what to do. 

“I think at least five times I’ve been told ‘Your son’s not going to make it’,” Minton said.

The Mintons wanted to be by the baby’s side as much as possible. At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, they had the option of using a camera to watch Michael while they were away. They log into an online account on a phone or computer, and they can see him in real time.

“It just adds a little bit more peace of mind,” Minton said. “I know that the nurses are busy, and sometimes I’ll try to call in and they’re doing care. So I can’t talk to them and ask how he’s doing.”

The Mintons were part of the hospital’s trial run for the cameras, but last week the system officially went online over 31 beds. It was set up with grant funding, at about $1,000 a camera.

“Parents are allowed in here 24/7, and we encourage that. There are just times when you can’t be here,” said Barb Harvey, manager of the Phoenix’ Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit, or NICU.

Harvey said this has been a learning process for them as well as for parents -- like when they realized some of the enclosed incubators would fog up.  

“Sometimes we use humidity in there for these babies, and they found out that you really can’t see very well,” she said.

Harvey said they get calls from worried parents when they see something they don’t understand. 

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Medicine and Research found at one hospital, using web cameras in the NICU increased nurses’ workload and stress, partly due to calls from parents. Harvey said they’re working on better ways to handle that, so nurses can focus on care.

“I’d say probably one of the biggest things I heard from other hospitals that successfully do it is you have to learn how to manage their expectations up front,” she said.

They’ll let parents know that the cameras will be off during shift changes, for example, so nurses can focus on what they’re doing and hand off to the next person. Harvey said overall, the benefits for families are worth it.

“Every night I log in from my phone and let my daughter give her brother a kiss good night,” Minton said.

The hospital has grant funding left over to set up cameras in other units, too.

Soon the Mintons won’t need a camera. In just a week, Michael is finally scheduled to come home.

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