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iPad app gives a voice to MSICU patients with breathing tubes

Toronto, December 4, 2015

By Corinne Ton That

Angelina Berlin uses the TalkRocket Go app with a patient
Angelina Berlin, a nurse in the MSICU, uses the TalkRocket Go app to communicate with a patient. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Reading a patient’s lips and interpreting hand gestures can be tricky – especially if the patient who is trying to communicate is in the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit and breathing through tubes.

A pilot study conducted by a team of speech language pathologists, nurses and respiratory therapists at St. Michael’s Hospital found that an iPad app called TalkRocket Go could help clinicians better communicate and care for patients with endotracheal or tracheostomy tubes.

“For some patients in the ICU, their hands are so swollen that they aren’t able to hold a pen to write things down, and they’re weak, which makes it hard for them to communicate,” said Orla Smith, a nurse researcher who worked on the study. “There can be unmet needs for patients, and clinicians might not know if they’re being understood by their patients.”

The app, which can be downloaded for about $130, allows users to push buttons with pre-programmed questions, statements, answers and pictures.

Angelina Berlin uses the TalkRocket Go app with a patient
TalkRocket Go: quick facts
  • The app is a communication aid designed to help people who have difficulty speaking.
  • Alex Levy and Aakash Sahney, two University of Toronto graduates, created the app in 2011.
  • It’s available in French and English, and used by about 15,000 people in 30 countries.
(Photo by Katie Cooper)

“Patients are able to communicate more easily through the app, and I think it can improve their overall wellbeing,” said Angelina Berlin, a nurse in the MSICU who took part in the study. “It’s frustrating when you can’t express what you need.”

Darcy Roza, a speech language pathologist who worked at the hospital until this summer, was the principal investigator for the study. She taught clinicians how to use the app and helped identify appropriate patients for the study. Patients had to be alert, able to follow commands, and able to read and identify pictures.

Most patients had been breathing through endotracheal or tracheostomy tubes for 22 days before taking part in the study.

“We don’t want to eliminate other types of communication – rather, we want to help clinicians gain more insight into how patients are feeling,” said Roza. “This app allows patients to elicit full conversations with the staff caring for them.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.