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New app helps parents keep track of kids going through surgery

HOUSTON – Texas Children's Hospital just started using an app called EASE at all of their campuses for hours-long surgeries.

The app works like Snapchat -- about every half-hour, a parent gets a message with an update about their kid's surgery, and the message disappears after it is read.

Pierre Denha, 16, was at Texas Children's for a minor procedure but his mother, Rula Barbirian, still worried.

“It’s minor surgery, but it's still anesthesia,” Barbirian said.

That’s why she chose to download the app. On EASE, the hospital promises a nurse will send updates throughout surgery.

To ensure the patient's privacy, only a barcode assigned to the patient can be scanned to download the app. Then the family can link the app with people outside of the hospital.

“At least you know exactly where he is and the steps, and you'll be able to follow up, not just sitting here nervous and imagining what's going on,” Barbirian said.

The disappearing messages are for security reasons, said Dr. Larry Hollier, surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children's.

“We just don't want those messages hanging around forever for very, very many reasons," Hollier said. "Communication can only go from that nurse's specific iPod to a family member's phone. Now, the family member can choose to have it sent to wherever else they would like simultaneously, but then all of those messages simultaneously disappear. So, it really is just to reassure them through the course of the procedure. It's not to document the procedure for the family.”

Barbirian said that is the only thing about the app she doesn't like. She wants to look back at the messages for reassurance, but cannot. Overall though, she said she loves it. She could walk the halls, get coffee, privately call relatives and did not feel the pressure to stay in the waiting room looking for updates because they're coming to her phone, even in the elevator.

Hollier said if they did need to contact a guardian who was not in the waiting room, the app can help communicate with parents about that too.

One thing to make clear, parents cannot reply to messages. The hospital said the nurse's priority is the patient. They cannot dedicate time on the phone for more than quick updates.

Similar to Snapchat, a version of this app does have the ability to send photos, but Texas Children's opted to only use the version with text. Hollier said images inside the operating room can be unduly alarming to parents, even when everything is going fine.