UT nurse develops app to help voiceless patients

Sept. 30, 2016: A UT nurse has developed an app that helps nonverbal patients communicate with doctors.

A nurse at the University of Tennessee is working to give a voice to the voiceless.

Dr. Rebecca Koszalinski is developing a mobile app called “Speak for Myself” that helps nonverbal patients communicate with doctors. It lets patients choose pain levels and problem areas via touch, and also has a keyboard for customized phrases that users can save for future use.

Today, many nonverbal medical patients have to resort to paper and pencil or alphabet boards.

“Those are fine, but most people become frustrated and stop using them,” Koszalinski said. “The nurse or doctor has to stand at the bedside while the patient spells out an entire sentence, and few people have the patience for that.”

The nurse developed the app in her doctoral program in South Florida, but says she brought it to UT for the College of Nursing’s unique blend of technology and nursing opportunities.

As the director of trauma at UT Medical Center, Dr. Brian Daley cares for intubated and voiceless patients every day. He says at least three-quarters of his ICU patients are unable to verbally communicate.

“It’s always very frustrating for both the patient and the caregivers when they don’t communicate and we’re not getting through,” Daley said.

In the two decades he's been at this hospital, doctors have used healthcare communication boards filled with letters and symbols, yes/no options and anatomical diagrams for patients to use.

“We ask simple questions like, 'Does your head hurt?' And they can either answer 'yes' or 'no'. Or they can point where they hurt,” Daley said.

The diagram does not easily allow patients to ask complex questions pertaining to surgical operations or their future health and wellbeing. Daley said having a touchscreen option with saved, customizable phrases could make an industry-wide difference across the board for several types of medical patients.

By Sunday, Koszalinski plans to release the first version of the application for Android devices.

Professors at the UT College of Engineering are helping to develop a more advanced version of the application for all tablets.

"Your voice is your life,” Koszalinski said. “Without your voice, you can't communicate your thoughts and no one sees you."

(© 2016 WBIR)


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