UT Professor Develops App For Patients Who Can't Speak

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Patients who are unable to communicate with their health care providers are now able to better verbalize their needs, thanks to a new app developed by Rebecca Koszalinski, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Speak for Myself allows intubated and voiceless patients to communicate pain, fear, anxiety, loneliness and toileting requests to their doctors and nurses through an iPad or Android tablet.

Dr. Koszalinski joined UT's nursing faculty in August 2015. She has recently partnered with Associate Professor of Nursing Sadie Hutson, and Xueping Li, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and director of the Ideation Laboratory in the College of Engineering, to develop a more advanced version of the app. The trio is also incorporating contributions from UT graduate students in audiology and speech pathology.

Dr. Koszalinski was a doctoral student and clinical instructor at Florida Atlantic University when she first became aware of an issue affecting many of her patients with cerebral palsy and spina bifida.
"Their inability to verbalize made it difficult to communicate their needs in a clinical setting," said Dr. Koszalinski. "They felt misunderstood and even ignored by hospital staff, which is not only frustrating but also interfered with their ability to make choices regarding their care."

The app was tested at three hospitals in South Florida to provide Dr. Koszalinski with feedback from patients, nurses and family members.

"We discovered the app helped patients communicate their needs, which led to improved care," said Dr. Koszalinski.

Through an internal grant, Speak for Myself was updated to work across a variety of mobile platforms with natural-sounding male and female voices, support for multiple languages and advanced care planning items.

Further testing is planned with patients in the Knoxville and East Tennessee region.

"The ultimate goal is to make Speak for Myself available to all intubated patients so they can communicate their thoughts, needs and preferences clearly and easily," said Dr. Koszalinski.


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