First ICS rolls out healthcare communications app

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 9-Jan-2023

Mid and South Essex Integrated Care System uses CardMedic app to improve care for patients who face communication barriers

Mid and South Essex Integrated Care System (ICS) has become the first UK care system to make an award-winning communication app available to all its care providers to help tackle health inequalities.

The CardMedic app, designed to improve care for patients who face communication barriers, is now available to all health and care services in the mid and south Essex area.

The ICS states that more than 35% of people have additional communication needs, which can be due to language, visual, or hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, literacy, or other reasons.  And communication barriers can contribute to healthcare inequalities, which the newly-formed ICS aims to tackle.

“Communication is the first key barrier to health equity and, until you solve that, you can’t move forwards,” said Sarah Haines, head of patient experience and engagement at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust.

Safety first

“Our medical colleagues in the Intensive Care Unit and elsewhere have been excited about using CardMedic, especially the British Sign Language and easy-read options and I’ve been blown away by the potential it holds to improve patient experience and safety.

“It provides people who have struggled to fully participate in their care to be involved in shared decision making with clinicians.

“And working at ICS level means we can improve communication across multiple settings, enabling more and more people to access the standards of care that they deserve.”

Dr Sophia Morris, system clinical lead for inequalities at Mid and South Essex Integrated Care System, adds: “Being able to ensure all our residents can experience equity of access to healthcare is at the heart of narrowing the gap in health and care inequalities in mid and south Essex.

“This app will ensure that those who need help communicating and accessing essential services can feel more confident of getting the help and care they need.”

Breaking down barriers

Rhona Hayden, a lead out-of-hours nurse at the trust, and her team, have used the app since May to reduce communication barriers between patients and healthcare professionals, such as language or hearing impairments.

She said: “We have the app downloaded on our tablets and phones and it’s very helpful, especially out-of-hours where we often have to wait for a translator.

“Before, we had to rely on picture boards or Google Translate, which are slow and unreliable.

“It helps us to get the simple-but-important things right, such as not being comfortable in bed.

“We also use it to make explanations clearer to patients’ families.”

As important stakeholders within the ICS, charity groups have been instrumental in defining how the app can be used to improve patient care.

A game changer

According to Sophie Ede, chief executive of Hearing Help Essex, the CardMedic app could be a real ‘game changer’ for improving the accessibility and equity of care across the region.

“One in six of the adult population have hearing loss and acquired hearing loss is most commonly age related, arriving at a time when people can start to experience many other health conditions” she said.

“All healthcare services have patients with hearing loss, even if the patient themself doesn’t know it and it can be very difficult for people with hearing loss to keep up with what’s being said, especially in an emergency situation.”

Attending A&E can also be more challenging for people with hearing loss, as they may not understand what the receptionist, healthcare or allied healthcare professionals are asking.

And procedures, such as an emergency c-section, can be even more stressful for people with hearing loss or a language barrier, as they can’t understand what’s being said.

Instant translation

The CardMedic app supports instant translation during consultations and treatment, using a mobile device or tablet.

After beginning the rollout at the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust hospitals, the ICS will move software deployment into primary care and community-based health settings.

The digital platform hosts a rapidly-growing A-Z library of nearly 800 pre-written scripts, replicating conversations between healthcare staff and patients on healthcare topics ranging from obstetrics and maternity to end-of-life care and emergency situations.

The content can be flexed at the point of care to different languages, sign language videos, easy-read with pictures, or read aloud.

And an integrated translation tool supports conversations beyond the content of the scripts.

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