Two projects are making technology work for those who need it
AS A PATIENT, you want healthcare staff to be up to speed – whether it’s about the latest development in helpful devices, or even the details of your own medical history.
Two separate projects are using technology to get that information efficiently to the people who need it, and are among finalists shortlisted for this year’s Neurological Alliance of Ireland Innovation Award.
One is try-it.ie, an online library that enables users browse through and borrow a catalogue of electronic assistive devices to learn how to use them or let patients try them out.
Products on offer include a “reading” pen that scans words on a page and presents them as enlarged text or reads them aloud, communication aids like a speech amplifier or boards with visual cues and phones for people with limited vision or motor controls.
Dr Rebecca Beck got the idea for try-it while visiting a facility at Denver, Colorado, where a similar online library was in place. “I saw it in operation there and it seemed to make a lot of sense,” she says.
Then seed funding from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform allowed the collaboration to be set up between the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Enable Ireland, the HSE and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland.
“Each of the organisations found they have similar issues – they didn’t have sufficient access to a wide enough range of assistive technology but they did have some products inhouse,” says Beck, now project manager of the initiative.
The agencies have donated equipment for loan – although the devices remain in the host institution until someone else needs them – and the initiative has also bought new equipment, she says.
Anyone can use the site to learn about what’s available, but only staff from the four agencies can currently request loans, she explains. The website has already facilitated about 400 loans and end users have ranged in age from four to 94.
Beck hopes that getting the chance to try a device out will help the end user avoid costly mismatches.
“There’s a huge abandonment of assisitive technology,” she says.
“Often you can find a device that appears to be functionally perfect for that user, but they may not want to use it, so it’s critical that the user has a say in what they use.”
Meanwhile, computer technology is helping staff at Beaumont Hospital improve services for epilepsy patients by transferring their medical records from paper to an electronic format.
“Even though we live in a very IT world for other things like banking, in healthcare we are still quite paper-based,” says Mary Fitzsimons, principal physicist with the hospital’s epilepsy programme.
But thanks to the project, about 1,200 epilepsy patients there now have electronic rather than paper records, which speeds access up considerably, she explains.
“If you arrive at Accident and Emergency with epilepsy, there may be delays in getting hold of your paper-based files but with an electronic record the clinician can pull up the information immediately,” she says.
“That could have implications for how treatment is initiated and the types of investigation.”
Similarly, if a patient or GP rings in for advice, the nurse who answers can quickly consult other staff members, as they can access the patient’s medical details from anywhere in the hospital.
Electronic records also make it easier to identify patients who are ready to be discharged from the service, or those who could be asked to get involved in clinical research, she explains.
And while generating the electronic records is a simple idea, a four-year project funded by the Health Research Board has done the groundwork, researching the patient experience of dealing with healthcare services and the areas where secure information sharing could be improved, she also notes.
The winner of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland award is to be announced today at the conference The Future for Neurological Conditionsin the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, as part of brain awareness week.