An updated status for a loved one undergoing a surgical procedure at Freeman Health System is now just a simple text message away.

Used in conjunction with the age-old buzzing, black pagers and the surgical tracker board installed six years ago to the waiting room wall, the new text message updates — sent directly to a loved one’s phone — keep families informed about the patient's status while lessoning anxiety levels.

The texting program, initiated just a month ago, “is just another tool to help us communicate with families about what’s going on with their family members while they’re in surgery,” said Marty Fordham, director of perioperative services for the Joplin hospital. “We’ve always had a way of tracking the patients with our staff, but this is something that can get the families more involved” with that process.

It’s an easy-to-use system, he said. Upon arriving, after the patient is given an ID number that's flashed onto the nearby status board, those waiting will be able to text the word “surg” to a short code number — 33443 — to start. They’ll receive a reply text with basic information while asking for the public ID for that patient. As a patient makes his way through the various stages of a standard surgical procedure — from prep work to actual surgery to the recovery room to discharge — family and friends will begin receiving text messages reflecting these milestone changes as the patient moves through the process.

“Obviously there are high anxiety levels — they are trusting a bunch of strangers with their loved ones,” Fordham said. “Anything we can do to try to reduce the anxiety levels of both our patients and their families” is important to everyone at Freeman.

According to beckershospitalreview.com, texting is the channel of choice for many, if not most, of today's hospital patients. Text messages, research shows, have an open rate of 97%, and more than 80% of consumers have notifications turned on their phones.

Skip Rollins, Freeman Health System’s chief information officer and one of the architects of the texting update system, said he learned about the idea from an Alabama-based hospital and thought it could be implemented here in Joplin. He was able to use the system firsthand earlier this month, when his wife underwent a procedure. Admitting he doesn’t do well “sitting around in a chair,” he was able to go back to his office and work for 20 minutes, which is how long the procedure took. Keeping track of his wife’s status via text updates on his phone, he was back in the waiting room as she was being moved to the recovery room, her procedure successfully completed.

“It was great,” he said. “I knew exactly what was going on. ... I didn’t have to sit here and wait, which is really what we’re trying to accomplish.”

With every visitor to the hospital now having to wear a mask at all times, many people find a waiting room even more uncomfortable. The texting system allows loved ones the freedom to leave the hospital should they need to sit on the benches in front of the hospital or in their vehicles, without having to wear their masks.

“It you want to sit (in the waiting room), that’s great,” Rollins said. “If you don’t want to sit ... you can get up and go walk around, visit the gift shop, get something down at the cafeteria — even go and wait in their cars or even going to lunch. And they can get those important notifications without having to carry around the (pagers). As long as you have your phone with you, you’re fine.”

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