Wearing smart glasses, staff become the eyes of their colleagues

Jannette Bront Ferguson, a Licensed Practical Nurse, wears a HoloLens headset as she prepares a feeding tube for a resident at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre.
Jannette Bront Ferguson, a Licensed Practical Nurse, wears a HoloLens headset as she prepares a feeding tube for a resident at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre.

Digital technology connects co-workers to help deliver care to seniors

Jannette Bront Ferguson enters the room of a resident at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre to prepare a tube feeding. She speaks to the elderly woman gently and touches her hand, then reaches for the tube on a stand. Ms. Bront Ferguson is working alone—yet she’s accompanied at every step by a colleague who is nowhere in sight.

“I’m taking the tube now,” Ms. Bront Ferguson, a Licensed Practical Nurse, says out loud.

One floor down, watching on a computer screen at her desk, Khaleda Begum is giving guidance. “Okay,” the registered nurse says, “go ahead and connect the tube to the resident.”

Jennifer Clarke, Associate Director for Long-Term Care for CIUSSS West-Central Montreal

The co-workers are in separate places but see the same thing at the same time. That’s because Ms. Bront Ferguson is wearing a digital headset that transmits her every move to Ms. Begum.

The CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, in a first in Quebec, is deploying Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens in several long-term care centres to help connect staff virtually and give seniors the attention of professionals, wherever they are.

“It’s like a direct hotline to a resident,” says Jennifer Clarke, Associate Director for Long-Term Care in our CIUSSS. “And it’s helping us use our resources better.”

The benefits of the HoloLens were evident during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. An orderly or other care provider could wear the device inside the “hot zone” while a nurse could watch and give advice about a patient on the outside, limiting the risk of spreading the virus.

“It’s like a direct hotline to a resident.”

Jennifer Clarke, Associate Director for Long-Term Care

As the pandemic recedes, benefits remain, staff says. A nurse in her office or nursing station can oversee the well-being of residents on several floors. Similarly, a doctor based at the Jewish General Hospital can conduct a medical consultation from her hospital office or even from home.

Those who have used the HoloLens describe it as both practical and fun. When Ms. Bront Ferguson put on the headset and entered the resident’s room, she got a unique view. Looking through the lens, which resembles a set of goggles, she could see everything inside the room—along with virtual objects, too.

A series of virtual screens appeared in the corner of her vision as if they were hovering midair; after she “touched” one of the screens (to an outsider, it looked like she was poking her finger in the air), she was connected by video call to Ms. Begum on the floor below.

Ms. Bront Ferguson says the technology offers her the security of added support from her colleagues. And, unlike a tablet, the HoloLens is hands-free and gives her full freedom of movement.

“I love it,” she says. “It’s like having someone see what I’m seeing. And it gives me more confidence. I feel like there’s less room for error because it’s making sure we both understand that we’re talking about the same thing. My eyes are their eyes.”

Meanwhile, vulnerable seniors get access to the expertise of additional healthcare professionals without leaving the comfort of their bed. This reduces transfers to hospital that can be disruptive and cause deconditioning and other health ailments, says Ms. Begum, a Project Manager at Jewish Eldercare.

“It lets residents remain in an environment they know, with staff they know. Staff are like family to them, so they’re calmer here,” she says.

It’s like having someone see what I’m seeing … My eyes are their eyes.”

Jannette Bront Ferguson, Licensed Practical Nurse

The HoloLens is helping address staff shortages that are affecting long-term care homes across the province, especially in nursing. The benefits extend to occupational therapists and other rehabilitation staff who are using the system to connect with colleagues at other long-term care sites, receiving feedback in real time.

“With thinner resources, we’ve had to get creative and to think outside the box,” Ms. Clarke says. “And staff have come to see the potential too. I’m proud of them for being so open to implementing something new. It’s a testament to how resident focused they are.”

The use of the HoloLens in long-term care—it is also being deployed in Rehabilitation at the Catherine Booth and Richardson Hospitals—is evidence of the technology’s expansion within CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, part of the health network’s objective of putting new technologies in the service of patient and user care. The CIUSSS began experimenting with the HoloLens at the JGH during the first wave of the pandemic and used it to innovate in cardiac surgery last year. Now HoloLens technology is helping train nurses remotely in cardiac assessment, and there are plans to widen its use for Nursing in the Intensive Care Unit and other areas.

“The HoloLens project has thus far been a great success and it is a credit to our staff willing to embrace new ideas to solve urgent problems,” says Dr. Lawrence Rudski, Director of the Azrieli Heart Centre and Chief Medical Information Officer for our CIUSSS. Dr. Rudski thanks Auger Groupe Conseil Inc. for loaning the devices and providing training and support. “We believe that this technology will have an enduring role in healthcare delivery.”