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Video-calling premature babies: new app helping remote parents

14 December

While pre-term twins Zachery and Sebastian are snuggled in their cot in The Townsville Hospital’s (TTH)
neonatal intensive care unit, their mother, Samantha Hayden, can take a much-needed break and at the
same time keep a close eye on her beautiful baby boys thanks to a live video-stream on her smart phone.

The technology, developed by Australian national science agency CSIRO and being trialled at TTH, means
Samantha can see her babies in the nursery while she away from them.

“I’m living with my parents at Gumlow at the moment and if I get up in the middle of the night, I can turn on
my phone and see my boys wriggling and moving,” she said.

“I’m immediately reassured,” she said.

Born at 27 weeks and five days each weighing 1.1kg, the boys have been in NICU since their birth on 2
November.

The initiative is a research collaboration between THHS’s Neonatal Specialist Dr Yoga Kandasamy and
Neonatal Nurse Educator Michelle Evans, James Cook University’s Dr Meegan Kilcullen and Professor Ian
Atkinson, and Professor Yogi Kanagasingam from CSIRO(WA)/Australian E-Health Research.

The research will determine if the technology, known in the NICU as ‘baby cam’, helps reduce the anxiety
of parents with a sick or preterm baby in the nursery.

Dr Kandasamy said of the 900 babies treated annually in the NICU, around a third were from regional and
remote parts of north and north-west Queensland.

“These babies are often with us for many months,” he said.

“Parents have only two choices; uproot and move to Townsville or become temporarily separated from their
babies.”

Dr Kandasamy recruited 35 families to his study and will spend the next few months analysing the data to
explore whether the baby cams helped with parent-infant attachment and helped reduce parents’ worry.

CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre CEO Dr David Hansen said this solution was one of a wave
of digital health technologies being developed to revolutionise healthcare in Australia.

“This is an innovative use of existing video-streaming technology to solve a real problem for new mothers
and families,” Dr Hansen said.

“This affordable solution has been engineered with privacy and security features and uses the mobile
phones families already have ensuring the technology is widely accessible.

“While all Australians will benefit from digital health technologies, their ability to provide equity of access to
health services for rural and remote Australia will be profound,” he said.

For Samantha, the journey to mother of twins has been a whirlwind one.

An unexpected pregnancy followed by a scan that showed twins and a premature labour and C-section delivery have been, by her own admission, ‘epic’.

After six weeks ‘almost living’ in the NICU, Samantha is won over by the technology.

“The baby cam lets me talk to the boys whenever I want to even though they can’t hear me and being able to see them helps me express more easily.

“I absolutely love it and it’s the same for my family.

“While we were having dinner the other day, my dad said, ‘where are my grandsons?’ and we could jump on the phone and watch them while we ate,” she said.

Samantha’s parents Jennifer and Norman Hayden are no strangers to twins having two sets themselves; Samantha has a twin sister and older twin brothers.

“They say it skips a generation; I guess not,” she laughed.

The baby cam project has been supported by Optus Telecommunications, with the donation of 10 mobile phones and data, and the Townsville Hospital and Health Service’s Study Education Research Trust Account.

Once the trial is complete, CSIRO is hoping to make the technology generally available.

Dr Kandasamy said the boys were doing ‘incredibly well’ and hoped they would be heading home at the end of January.

“Seeing our babies leave is always bittersweet; we love to see them well but it’s sad to see them leave us.”

Last updated: 21 December 2018