First-of-a-kind communications app deployed at NHS trust

Innovative software inspired by the challenges of COVID-19 goes live at Sussex trust

CardMedic is a series of flashcards that guide patients through common clinical interactions

A web and mobile app-based start-up launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to help UK healthcare professionals communicate with patients has signed its first commercial agreement with an NHS hospital trust.

The Oxford-based CardMedic app, which offers online flashcards to guide patients through common clinical interactions, will be now available to healthcare professionals across University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust.

Josephine Octobre, a practice educator at the trust’s Royal Sussex County Hospital, who has been using the app since April last year, said: “All the basic and essential things are covered in terms of communicating with patients, and it enhances their experience and care.”

The CardMedic app, which is the first of its kind in the world, was developed by NHS anaesthetist, Rachael Grimaldi, during her maternity leave.

While caught by travel restrictions in the US in March 2020, she read an article about a COVID-19 patient’s terrifying experience of not understanding hospital workers through their PPE.

All the basic and essential things are covered in terms of communicating with patients, and it enhances their experience and care

And, within 72 hours, she had created an app to help her frontline colleagues communicate with patients with hearing, sight, or language difficulties, cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, or literacy issues, or those who need to be treated by a healthcare professional wearing PPE.

She said: “There were areas of the hospital where we found it difficult to communicate through doors and with full PPE. We tried to use paper held up to the glass, but we soon ran out of paper.”

“What we could do now, especially with patients who were hard of hearing, was put our phones in plastic bags and use them to give immediate information about what we were doing.”

The communication aids were the brainchild of NHS anaesthetist, Rachael Grimaldi, who had read about problems patients were having as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

The app uses flashcards to replicate conversations on a wide range of healthcare topics.

Staff can use questions and explanations developed by clinical professionals, or can add free text.

And the content can be flexed to overcome different communication barriers, by converting it to different languages, sign language videos, easy-read, or read-aloud mode, or by using the integrated speech-to-text translation tool.

Today, Octobre uses the app regularly for patients facing a wide range of communication challenges, including a deaf patient who recently gave birth and struggled to lipread through a mask.

Other benefits include complementing its interpreting and translation services.

The app covers healthcare topics ranging from breathing and heart problems, to end-of-life care and emergency situations. Staff simply select a topic and choose from nearly 20 language options.

Everyone involved shares our passion of putting clear patient communication at the heart of healthcare, improving patient experience and quality of care, and reducing health inequalities

Barbara Harris, head of inclusion at the trust, said: “When shorter conversations need to take place, especially in the middle of the night, clinicians often feel they don’t want to disturb a translator. CardMedic bridges that gap to meet the needs of patients.”

Under the new five-year contract, the trust will roll out the CardMedic app across the whole business domain, which serves a population of 1.8 million patients and around 20,000 staff.

Harris said: “You’ve got something that’s an absolutely instant way to communicate with your patients, and in so many language formats – that’s a major benefit.”

Dr Grimaldi, co-founder and chief executive of CardMedic, adds: “We are so proud to launch CardMedic with University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust as our beacon acute secondary care site.

“Our relationship is a true reflection of what a multi-disciplinary team effort can achieve.

“Everyone involved shares our passion of putting clear patient communication at the heart of healthcare, improving patient experience and quality of care, and reducing health inequalities.”

To take the software forward, Harris is bringing together a working group of speech and language therapists, maternity, learning disability, patient experience, and other professionals, as well as CardMedic representatives, to tweak and optimise the software as it is rolled out across the trust.

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