From Bench to Bedside:
A Voice for Patients
Pointing to pictures and words empowers patients to communicate their needs
“My pain is worse and I’m thirsty, but I can’t talk with this tube in my throat.” That’s the sort of message that silent and frustrated patients on respiratory ventilators long to tell their caregivers. Communication barriers in health care occur in many types of situations, such as patients who’ve experienced strokes, had head or neck surgery, or speak different languages.
What if these patients were able to communicate their needs by using a bedside board or electronic screen containing a list of common requests, or indicate their degree of pain on a pain chart?
That’s the concept behind the Vidatak EZ Boards that Lance Patak, M.D., a Health System house officer in anesthesiology, has developed. He plans to take the printed communication boards, already in use in hospitals, a big step further in a hospital-wide patient provider communication system. He’s tapping the expertise of the U-M Medical Innovation Center to make it happen.
The MIC helps faculty and alumni develop their ideas and bring them to market. It has already been able to help Patak move the communication software concept to market, says Brenda Jones, managing director. MIC staff suggested Ann Arbor’s Menlo Innovations to design the software and put him in touch with engineering students skilled at evaluating human factors in software design.
A Proven Concept
Patak got the idea for a patient communication tool when he worked as a nurse assistant in a California intensive care unit during the 1990s. He saw patients become frustrated and eventually depressed because they couldn’t communicate their needs. To help one lung transplant patient, he wrote words such as “sip water” and “call family” on a sheet of paper. He got an instant positive response.
“All she had to do was point,” he says. “She couldn’t write legibly.”
Patak, who later earned a B.S.N., M.D. and M.B.A., worked with University of California Los Angeles researchers to create patient-designed dry-erase communication boards with a printed set of words and phrases geared to patients’ most common needs.
The communication boards are already produced in 17 languages and used in about 1,500 hospitals in the U.S. and abroad.
Now the boards are poised to go high tech.
The idea is to take the concept of the low-tech boards and put their demonstrated advantages to work in a new electronic version, probably a touch-screen display that patients would have at their bedsides. But this is only one component of a much larger system that would serve patients throughout the hospital. “The goal is to create both cost and work efficiencies that improve patient care, patient safety and achieve a higher profit margin for the health care organization,” says Patak.
Mirroring a trend in hospitals being built today, the new C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital will have bedside electronic screens for patients and families.
Patak, with help from the MIC, plans to apply for a federal start-up grant to develop the patient-provider communication system as part of an expanded array of software applications for hospitals. In January, Patak incorporated a new company based in Ann Arbor, Patient Provider Communications, Inc., to develop and market the new software.
Patak hopes that the electronic patient communication tool will be considered an essential part of communications software offered in the future on the U-M Medical Campus.
Patak says he has been pleased to find ready support from the MIC as well as the U-M Business Engagement Center and Ann Arbor Spark, two other resources for entrepreneurs bringing inventions to market.
“They look for opportunities in the community that will help move your project forward,” he says. —AR
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