When Wendy Ellen Miller had a hip replacement at Greenwich Hospital last month, her husband, Andrew Tatarsky, expected to feel the same lost uncertainty he usually felt when a loved one underwent surgery.
"You're sitting in the waiting room, wondering what's happening," said Tatarsky, 58, who lives in New York City. "You don't really know what's going on."
But his experience this time around was different, due to a new program at Greenwich Hospital, which may expand to other hospitals in the region.
The hospital offers a program that allows the family members of some surgery patients to receive updates about their progress via text message.
When Miller had the hip replacement, Tatarsky was texted with updates about when the procedure was starting, when she was in recovery and at other key points. Getting that regular flow of information was a relief, said Tatarsky.
"I found the service tremendously helpful," he said. "I didn't have to worry about whether someone was going to call me or if I was going to have to call someone."
Greenwich launched the texting program July 1. The service is offered through FamilyTouch, a free, Massachusetts-based messaging program. When hospital staff first learned about the program, they were intrigued, said Christine Beechner, vice president of patient and guest relations at Greenwich Hospital.
"It was not something we had thought about previously, but we thought, for some patients and families, it could be huge," she said.
The text messages are available in English or Spanish, and are sent only to people selected by the patients.
Each person on the list is assigned a different personal identification number. Beechner said the texts aren't involved -- just a quick way to update family on "milestones" in the patients' treatment.
These milestones include the start of surgery, the arrival of the patient in recovery and the point when a patient is ready to be discharged.
Beechner said the hope was that adding the service would help increase peace of mind among patients and their families.
"We understand that, when you come in for surgery, it's a stressful time," she said. "If a patient is stressed, then the family is stressed."
Conversely, if the family is less stressed, then the patient's anxiety might also go down, Beechner said.
"If we can do something about lowering the stress by communicating really well, then the patient will feel better," she said.
Improving the experience
Beechner said Greenwich is the only hospital in the Northeast offering the texting service, though it could eventually be expanded to other hospitals in the Yale-New Haven Health System, of which it is a member. Other hospitals in the system include Yale-New Haven Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital.
When contacted, spokespeople at several other hospitals confirmed they don't offer a texting system like this one, but some said they have used technology to improve patient experience in other ways.
For instance, Norwalk Hospital and Danbury Hospital -- both part of the Western Connecticut Health Network -- have online patient portals that allow consumers to view test results, communicate with physicians and make appointments online.
At St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, spokeswoman Lucinda Ames said the hospital also has an online portal, which allows patients to view lab results, see their upcoming appointments and gather other information.
She said, though the hospital doesn't have a texting program like Greenwich's, there's the possibility it's something St. Vincent's could explore in the future.
"They're always reviewing how to improve the patient experience," Ames said.
"Connecticut hospitals work to ensure that patients and their families have excellent experiences -- from the time a patient arrives to when he or she is discharged," Sharp said.
"Technological advances are welcomed when they provide a new and innovative way to deliver on this commitment. In addition to text updates, some other examples of technology enhancements used in Connecticut hospitals include devices for decreasing noise levels in the units and bedside enhancements that offer entertainment and Internet access."
Since Greenwich Hospital's texting program launched in July, Beechner said, it has been used by more than 200 patients and more than 3,100 text messages have been sent through the system.
She said most of the feedback the hospital has gotten on the program has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We've had people telling us, `This is phenomenal,' " she said.
Tatarsky was one of the first people to use the service and echoed Beechner's thoughts that the new program could alleviate anxiety in patients and their families.
He and his wife are both psychologists, and he said receiving the updates made him feel like he was "considered in the process. It made me feel like I was being taken care of."