Communication Aid Can Help Speech-Impaired Patients
By John M. Williams
A new icon communication aid VerbalCare is on the market and has the potential to improve healthcare services between speech-challenged patients and nurses. Developed by Boston-based Verbal Applications, VerbalCare is a cloud-based patient engagement platform that connects patients in hospitals with nurses through software installed either on a mobile device that is worn by nurses or on a computer. Phrases such as, “I’m hungry.” “I have to pee.” “I need my medicine,” may be heard by the nurse.
VerbalCare’s goals are to empower the patients to speak and know they are being heard. Simultaneously nurses know the patient’s needs before walking into a room, thus enabling the patients to feel better about their care.
VerbalCare can replace primitive communication technology such as letter boards, white boards and lip-reading. The program can also be produced in a variety of languages.
Using an iPad or other tablets patients select large picture-based buttons to communicate. In addition, there are ways for patients to communicate their needs through voice systems. Clinical staff can see requests through the dashboard, their iPhones, or iPod touch. From there they can reply to patients so the patient knows help is coming.
Users of VerbalCare are satisfied with its results. Patient advocate Karen Kelly, for example, tested VerbalCare for four months with aphasia patients. She says, “VerbalCare performed the way it was designed.’ Kelly says that the patients and nurses were totally satisfied with VerbalCare. Kelly’s mother is an aphasia patient.
Aphasia is a language disorder that negatively affects a person's ability to talk, understand the spoken word and also their reading and writing. Originating from the Greek word "aphatos" which means speechless, aphasia is a symptom resultant of pre-existing brain damage, such as Alzheimer's disease or stroke (with over 30% of stroke victims suffering aphasia to some degree).
In November and December 2012 Verbal Applications ran a pilot at Mass General Hospital to learn what the patients want, and from there the software evolved.
“ Currently we are offering a handful of free pilots between now and the end of March, and people can use the solution for three months at no cost,” says Julie Merritt, VP Sales. “Afterwards the fee is roughly $50 per bed per month, and the pricing can change based on the institution’s size.”
The institution pays for the tablets. Verbal Applications has a relationship with Apple and Staples so the tablets can be leased on a monthly basis. In the future Verbal Applications plans to have some hardware in-house to be used on a short-term basis while the hospital purchases the hardware.
In February 2014 as part of a pilot program, VerbalCare will be installed in Brighton’s Franciscan Hospital for Children. This is a pediatric hospital and VerbalCare will be tested in various units to learn if different age groups are attracted to it. The company wants an additional 19 health care organizations, including hospitals, nursing homes and acute care facilities, in the pilot program by the end of 2014.
Since the system is cloud based an added benefit is family members can log in remotely to see what is occurring with their loved ones. This activity provides family members with a peace of mind.
“We supply the institutions with a library of icons, and also provide them administrative rights to create their own icons. Icons can be created from pictures people take. For example, pictures of specific nurses providing care or of loved ones,” says Merritt.
Founded in April 2013, Nick Dougherty is the CEO, the CTO is Eric Hsiao, the VP of sales is Julie Merritt and the COO is Greg Zoeller. The VP of Marketing is Lucas Dunn.
Verbal Applications was a 2013 MassChallenge finalist. MassChallenge connects entrepreneurs with the resources they need to launch and succeed immediately. It is the largest-ever startup accelerator, and the first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached. The company is self-funded but expects to close a seed round by second quarter of 2014.
Dougherty said improving hospital communication can have a "ripple effect" that will allow hospitals to save money and reduce risks for patients in hospitals.
U.S. hospitals waste more than $12 billion annually as a result of communication inefficiencies among health care providers, according to a 2010 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Patients with communication problems are at the highest risk for preventable, adverse events, according to a 2008 study published by the NCBI.