iPads give a voice to patients


For Immediate Release

Feburary 25, 2015


(LONDON, Ontario) –When patients enter an intensive care unit (ICU) their condition often limits their ability to communicate with caregivers and loved ones. Since November, a pilot program launched by Speech-Language Pathology at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is enabling communication through the use of Apple iPads.

“At a time when critical decisions are being made on behalf of patients, their condition often prohibits their ability to ask questions, express their wishes, or speak to their families,” says Emily Barrett, speech-language pathologist, LHSC.

To empower patients during their care, speech-language pathology chose to use iPads programmed with special software, called “The Grid” that would allow patients to make common requests, speak the name of a family member or care giver, and common greetings such as “hello, how are you?” with the tap of a pre-programmed button.

Bob Henry, a retired computer programmer and project manager, from St. Thomas Ontario was the first patient to receive an iPad. Henry experienced a night of breathing difficulties that unexpectedly lead to a three week stay at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and a transfer to the ICU at LHSC’s University Hospital.

The ventilators and feeding tubes that kept Henry alive also impaired his ability to communicate vocally. At LHSC, he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis – a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular condition that causes severe fatigue of voluntary muscles, including those that control facial expression, chewing, talking and swallowing making basic tasks exhausting.

“I could think clearly and I could hear clearly,” says Henry. “But I could not talk because I had a tube down my throat that fed me and provided oxygen. So it was very difficult.” Henry’s early communication efforts included tracing letters of the alphabet on his stomach to form words, and pointing to the letters on a letter board. These techniques were frustrating for Henry because of the time required to trace sentences, his fatigue and the occasional inability of others to understand at time.

“The iPad changed how I communicated with nurses, doctors, and my family,” says Henry. “With nurses and doctors I was able to communicate my needs, I was able to help my wife with our household affairs, and I was able to communicate with my grandchildren.”

“Bob was quickly using the iPad in ways that we never imagined to take a more active role in his care,” explains Barrett. Henry previously used a notes application to track the e-books he was reading and decided the same application could keep track of his care such as the time he took his medications, the effects, and keep a log of the important care decisions he made with his doctors.

“After he received the iPad I began to notice a big change in his personality,” says Lenore Henry, Bob’s spouse. “Bob was more engaged in his surroundings and his care, but also with the family and his visitors.” His care givers, “were seeing his personality emerge, including his sense of humour,” adds Barrett.

The pilot program which began with three iPads shared between the ICU’s at Victoria and University Hospital was made possible by a donation from The Tom and Sue Allan Family Fund, a fund within the London Community Foundation. Each unit was customized to ensure infection control practices, privacy, and a customized rolling stand to suit the bedside environment. After meeting Henry, the donor added another two iPads to the project.

“I’m just so glad that I was able to contribute,” says Henry. “The project helped me and I’m glad that I could play a part in making sure it helped others.”

Donations for additional iPads are welcome, and can be made to London Health Sciences Foundation.

About London Health Science Centre
London Health Sciences Centre has been at the forefront of medicine in Canada for 140 years and offers the broadest range of specialized clinical services in Ontario. Building on the traditions of its founding hospitals to provide compassionate care in an academic teaching setting, London Health Sciences Centre is home to Children’s Hospital, University Hospital, Victoria Hospital, the Kidney Care Centre, two family medical centres, and two research institutes – Children’s Health Research Institute and Lawson Health Research Institute. As a leader in medical discovery and health research, London Health Sciences Centre has a history of over 65 international and national firsts and attracts top clinicians and researchers from around the world. As a regional referral centre, London Health Sciences Centre cares for the most medically complex patients including critically injured adults and children in southwestern Ontario and beyond. The hospital’s nearly 15,000 staff, physicians, students and volunteers provide care for more than one million patient visits a year. For more information visit www.lhsc.on.ca


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Marek Kubow

Corporate Communications and Public Relations
London Health Sciences Centre
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