New tool helps intensive care patients communicate

Barnsley Hospital has helped develop a new app for patients unable to communicate in intensive care because they are on a ventilator.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Communication App has been designed to support the response to Covid 19 and the increased number of patients who are being ventilated. Compatible with iPad, it is specifically for patients in intensive care, high dependency units (HDU) and other wards.

The app helps patients who are intubated – those who have a breathing tube in their throat – a procedure which leaves them fully aware but temporarily unable to speak.

Developed with individuals who have lived through this experience on ICU, the app has a simple keyboard allowing the patient to type a message. It also includes two tools to allow hospital staff or relatives to support the patient in communicating.

Simon Judge, Barnsley Hospital’s Service Lead for Assistive Technology, said the app originated from research by Barnsley Hospital’s Assistive Technology Team and Imperial College’s Helix Centre, supported by the NIHR Devices for Dignity (D4D) MedTech Cooperative. The app was recently re-developed with the help of HMA, a Barnsley-based digital healthcare agency.

He said: “The main app screen provides reassurance as patients sometimes wake up in a state of confusion in ICU, not knowing where they are and what will happen to them.


“Communication can build from single words, initially with relatives or staff doing the majority of the work when communicating. The app comes with some pre-defined words and these are based on the topics that patients and relatives of those who had been on ICU said were important.


“The words in the app can be personalised. Relatives or staff can add words specific to the individual to allow simple and quick communication of topics important to the patient. As well as communicating in the moment the app can be left with the patient and they can construct a message over a longer period of time when they feel more able to do so.”

This app is part of a ‘tool kit’ which includes staff training in partner-based communication techniques as well as paper-based resources.

The app has now been released for free and can be downloaded on the Apple App Store.