Skip to main content

Live video stream provides "˜peace of mind' for parents of critically ill babies

Families asked, leadership responded by providing virtual access to infants hospitalized in NICU

WASHINGTON – Bleary from anesthesia, Catherine Johnston held her newborn daughter for a few precious minutes before the infant, Sadie, and her husband, Brian, were whisked away for a helicopter bound for Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to new technology, as Johnston recuperated from the cesarean section in her hospital bed miles away, the new mom could turn on her iPad to get a crystal clear view of her baby daughter’s progress. The livestream video came courtesy of a camera tethered to Sadie’s cooling pad and accompanied the phone calls, text messages and images sent by Brian Johnston.

“It’s been a life-saver for her, because she would have been a nervous wreck wondering what was going on. It’s great for her to have an eye on Sadie and see what’s going on and just be able to know what is happening,” Brian Johnston says. “It’s not just my wife using it: We have a good support system. A lot of our friends and family who probably would have come to see us in person are able to tune in and get a little glimpse of what’s going on.”

In late May 2019, Children’s National neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) introduced NicViewTM, a camera system that enables parents to log in from any internet-enabled device to see their infants virtually when they are unable to visit the NICU in person. And parents have logged in, as have cousins, grandparents, other family members and far-flung friends.

During any given week, up to 30 families have consented to access the streaming video of their child via a secure online portal. Some log in first thing in the morning. Some log in several times daily. Some take a final peek late at night, right before they go to sleep. In the first few weeks, relatives of Children’s National patients have logged in several thousand times from across the nation and from as far away as Serbia, South Africa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Sitting a few feet away from her 7-month-old son, Nick, Kristen Cornelius pulled up his image on her laptop, demonstrating to her father how the new granddad might log in from home. It was Nick’s third NICU admission to Children’s National since he was born preterm at 30 weeks’ gestation. Cornelius visits in person during the daytime, while her husband visits in person at nights.

“I pulled the video up last night before I went to bed. It was nice to be able to check on Nick to see what he was doing. (He was sleeping at the time.) It’s just a little extra peace of mind when you can’t be here physically in the same room with him,” she says.

“The nurses are wonderful, along with the doctors and nurse practitioners. If we can’t have him at home, he’s in the best of care here,” Cornelius adds. “Having a baby in the NICU is stressful; it’s hard. Obviously, any way to ease the parent’s mind when you can’t be here is great. This can provide that little piece of comfort if you can’t be by their bedside.”

Billie Lou Short, M.D., chief of the Division of Neonatology at Children’s National Sheikh Zayed Campus for Advanced Pediatric Medicine, credits the project’s early successes to the “time, innovative ideas and dedication of countless people throughout the hospital.”

Nneka I. Nzegwu, D.O., M.P.H., C.P.P.S., F.A.A.P., associate director of quality and safety within the Division of Neonatology and the project lead, adds that the suggestion to introduce the video livestream came from families themselves.

“Parents whose infants graduated from our NICU told us they wanted this technology. It’s gratifying to see how quickly it has been embraced by our current parents,” Dr. Nzegwu says.

The camera feed is turned off while patient care is delivered. And to ensure each shift is in the know, NICU staff created cute signs for each patient’s door with a cartoon baby sporting sunglasses like a Hollywood star to indicate NicViewTM is in use in that particular room. Nurses are able to leave notes for parents within the HIPAA-compliant system, with brief updates about how the baby is doing.

Lauren Kildea first signed on during the pilot period, and also shared video of Emily Grace with the baby’s big sister, who is 3 ½ years old.

“I thought it was nice: You could see what her reactions and expressions were when we weren’t here. She was awake a lot more than I realized. You could see she was curious. She looked around and looked for people. We were happy to see that; it was comforting,” Kildea says of 5-week-old Emily Grace. “I loved the part where the nurses leave notes in the morning. Before I left to drive here, I would just log in to see her, and I could see they wrote ‘she had a great night.’ So, I didn’t have to worry about that on my way in.”

Media contact: Diedtra Henderson | 443-610-9826 | 202-476-4500

Media Contacts

About Children's National