Mobile phones as PPEs for PGH frontliners

April 25, 2020

MOBILE phones as personal protective equipment, or PPEs? Yes, that is how these devices are being used by health workers at the Covid-19 wards of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).

The challenge in treating Covid patients is that the virus is highly infectious.  So, close and prolonged contact with these patients is discouraged in order to protect doctors and health workers. Also, not all doctors enter the Covid wards in order to conserve PPEs which are often in short supply.

On the other hand, clear and frequent communications between the patients, doctors, and hospital staff is a key requirement for effective treatment. This is important because each patient has different needs and situations, which need to be determined accurately to ensure proper care is given.

Apart from giving medical information, doctors also deal with patients’ emotions. They have to acknowledge the anxiety, fear, and sadness that the patients and their families experience.

To resolve this dilemma, doctors, nurses, and some patients at the Covid wards of the PGH are now using mobile phones provided by PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications as PPEs.

PGH Department of Internal Medicine vice chair for research Dr. Cecilia A. Jimeno said her team had long identified the need for mobile devices to provide an extra layer of safety for health workers at the Covid-19 wards.

“The medical and nursing staff have to be protected from this highly infectious disease, therefore, they have to wear the proper protective equipment before coming near patients,” said Jimeno, who is also the department’s officer in charge of logistics and supplies.

“The doctors on duty need to contact the patients, fellow doctors in other subspecialties, and the crisis committee. We need new ways to communicate since we cannot just call up the landlines of the various departments and divisions and expect the on-call doctors to answer. The nurses also have to talk to patients, some of whom may not have their own cell phones,” said Jimeno.

When Smart officials were alerted to the idea of using cell phones in the Covid wards, they quickly responded and provided 40 mobile phones with load for the purpose. The phones have been deployed in at least 14 areas within the Covid units of PGH.

Aside from doctors and nurses, laboratory technicians at the electrocardiogram, arterial blood gas, and clinical chemistry areas also use the handsets, along with the fellows of various subspecialties, who need to communicate instructions and recommendations to the on-duty doctors at the Covid floors.

Covid-19 patients undergo many tests, such as ECG, ABG, and various other blood tests, which are analyzed by the clinical pathology laboratory. Test results also need to be communicated to the “hot zone” by contact-less means to prevent the spread of the virus.

“With these phones, we have devised a system of providing medical care that is facilitated by effective communications,” said Jimeno.

“This isn’t a conventional use of mobile phones. But we’re very happy that it is helping keep our medical workers at PGH safe,” said PLDT and Smart public affairs head Mon Isberto.

“Our frontliners are grateful to our partners in this fight. We will all overcome this adversity by working together, with the grace of God and His favor on our country,” added Jimeno