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App helps ventilated patients communicate with staff, visitors

Is there an app for everything? One would almost start to think so. Now there is even an app that allows patients who are is intubated and on a ventilator, to communicate with hospital staff and visitors in an easy way.

The Speak for Myself app was thought out by Rebecca Koszalinski, R.N., Ph.D. The app is used on a tablet and offers an easily controlled pain scale, as well as a way to show where something hurts thanks to a graphic displaying a human body. There are also options to request to be repositioned, to ask for suctioning, and notify when one needs to empty one’s bowels.

Koszalinski developed the at the College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University, during her doctoral studies under the guidance of Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., R.N., F.A.A.N.,  the Christine E. Lynn eminent scholar and professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University.

There are almost 800,000 patients in the United States alone who are intubated and require mechanical ventilation annually. More than half of these patients are awake, alert and desperately attempting to communicate with nurses, physicians and their loved ones. Current methods that exist today to assist patients with their communication needs are either antiquated, time consuming or just cumbersome.

Care improvement

Results of a pilot study of Speak for Myself, conducted at three hospitals in South Florida, where recently published in the journal Computers, Informatics, Nursing, and demonstrates the importance of the computer app as well as the disconnect between what health care providers think patients want to communicate and what patients actually want to communicate.  Researchers tested the application on patients aged 45 to 91 within cardiovascular, neurological, and surgical intensive care units. They showed that the app indeed does help patients communicate and even lead to improvement in care.

Speak for Myself enables a patient to communicate his or her level of pain using an analog pain scale. It also helps them convey feelings of fear and loneliness as well as their physical needs such as suctioning, repositioning needs and requests for toileting.

The app has a graphic for indicating the location of their pain and the level of pain they are experiencing. When a patient touches the screen to indicate the location of pain on the body graphic, the voice says “it hurts here.” Patients can use shortcuts and single words or type in phrases or full sentences to communicate their needs. The software is predictive so that if a patient begins to enter a word, the program will anticipate and present likely solutions.

Misinterpretation and misunderstanding

“The purpose of Speak for Myself is to provide an easy-to-use, patient-centric, and hospital experience-specific program that can assist patients in expressing their needs,” said Koszalinski, now an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Patients want to be heard, to retain control, and to contribute to decisions about their care, even if it is without a voice. Technology at the bedside can play a significant role in making this a reality.”

“When patients are not able to clearly verbalize their needs, there is an elevated risk of misinterpretation and misunderstanding, which could lead to errors and unintentional poorer quality of care,” adds Tappen. “While writing boards and other traditional methods may be helpful, important information is often lost. Furthermore, allowing others to speak for the patient has its limitations.”

Study shows effectiveness

Results from the study revealed to Tappen and Koszalinski just how effective Speak for Myself was for both patients and health care providers in the ICUs. In one example, a patient who had reported unresolved pain in the back of his throat was finally able to get assessed properly. Health care providers learned that it was the nasogastric tube that had become twisted and was causing his pain. They corrected the placement of the tube and resolved the issue.

Perhaps the most dramatic example for clear communication was demonstrated when a patient asked the nurses to help document her end-of-life decisions and wishes. The patient decided not to prolong treatment but to disconnect the mechanical ventilation that was keeping her alive.


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