Science & tech

How technology is giving ICU patients a voice

For physically weak, voiceless and ventilated patients, communication can be extremely difficult. To help such patients overcome this barrier, a team of specialists developed myICUvoice – a symptom management and communication tool for ICU patients. Abi Millar takes a look at how this technology and others are changing ICU experience for patients.

For patients in intensive care units (ICUs), communication can be a real challenge. Despite being fully conscious, many are intubated and incapable of speech, meaning they struggle to express their needs. As studies have shown, they tend to rely on head nods, gestures, mouthing words and, less commonly, writing. However, some patients are too weak for this to be an option.

At best, this is extremely frustrating for the patients, their caregivers and families. At worst, it can be a real source of distress and can contribute to the development of ongoing mental health problems. More than a fifth of those who have survived intensive care suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while 30% are left with anxiety and 40% with depression.

Assistive communication tools for ICU patients do exist, ranging from the low tech (eye gaze boards, alphabet boards etc) to high-tech, specialised devices. According to one 2015 study, around half of all patients on ventilators could be helped by these kinds of tools. However, patient communication devices are not consistently available in ICUs, for reasons that researchers are just starting to explore.

Read the rest of this article in the October 2020 edition of Medical Technology

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