Emily St. Martin in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Ochsner Medical Center, is shown on a webcam feed at her family's home in LaPlace, La. Her parents, Laura and David St. Martin, with their daughter Jacqueline, 2, background, are able to watch her from a web cam installed over her crib on their iPad.
NEW ORLEANS — Corey Harrington spent the first month of his life in intensive care 150 miles from home, but his parents could see him any time thanks to a webcam in the premature baby’s incubator in Little Rock, Ark.
They couldn’t be there because they had another young child to care for and the father had used up his leave during the final weeks of the complicated pregnancy. So instead, Brandi and Charles Ray Harrington of Bentonville, Ark., used the device to further a bonding process that doctors say is crucial.
The importance of feeling close to babies — for the babies as well as their parents — has transformed newborn intensive care units around the country. Instead of brief visiting hours, for instance, many allow parents 24-hour access. The next step in the process involves webcam technology that has had applications ranging from peering into eagles’ nests to linking soldiers in war zones with their loved ones back home.
Now parents, grandparents and friends can log in to babycams in hospitals around the U.S. and several countries. At least eight domestic hospitals have installed such systems, and several dozen others are testing trial setups.
Brandi Harrington said nurses at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital often put notes on camera. She read from some that were captured in screenshots: “I’m now 4 (pounds) 1 oz. Woohoo!”
“Be back soon. Pooping on my own. Gonna try to breathe on my own too. Taking the breathing tube out.”
The UAMS Medical Center in Little Rock was among the first to install webcams in neonatal intensive care units back in 2006, and it had to create its own system. Now, the chairman of the hospital’s OB-GYN department has passed on his software to a Pennsylvania hospital, while at least two companies are selling contracts for similar systems.
At UAMS and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, a speaker inside each incubator lets parents coo, talk and sing to their babies.
That’s not available through the 53 cameras recently installed at Ochsner Health System near New Orleans by Healthcare Observation Systems LLC of Louisville, Ky. Company owner Blake Rutherford says about 200 of the 600-plus NICUs caring for critically ill newborns have asked for information; he has installed six systems and has trial setups at about 40 other hospitals.
The systems aren’t used by doctors and nurses for clinical care in the U.S. The system made by Rutherford’s company doesn’t store any video. People watching a baby can take screenshot “photographs,” but the video is gone as soon as it’s transmitted, Rutherford said.
Parents use the U.S. systems for free, and they typically get a password — which they can share with family and friends — to log in to a secure server to watch their baby.