“It was really helpful to receive that business management perspective from KSS AHSN, an organisation that understands the medical implication of the product. The team also helped us to think about future proofing CARDMEDIC, and suggested funding streams and opportunities for further promotion.”

Dr Rachael Grimaldi, Anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

Tackling communication issues for people who are deaf or hard of hearing during COVID-19

Challenge / problem identified

The need to use face masks, visors and hoods during COVID-19 led to increased and unexpected issues for communication between clinicians in face masks and patients. As well as removing the ability for deaf patients or healthcare professionals to lip read, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) limited communication with all patients within hospital, regardless of whether they had hearing issues or not.

Actions taken

Two clinicians separately sought unique solutions to these problems.

Dr Rachael Grimaldi, Anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, was inspired to create CARDMEDIC after seeing an interview on Sky News with a UK patient who described feeling terrified of not being able to understand what his healthcare providers were saying. Dr Grimaldi came up with the idea of communication flashcards that use simple and succinct basic language to share information and describe the plan of action. Within 72 hours she had created a free website containing an A-Z index of the most common issues, and has been adding to it ever since. Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) AHSN has helped with spread support and commercialisation advice.

Dr Fizz Izagaren, a paediatric registrar at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, is deaf and relies on lipreading in her daily work. Unable to source a transparent face mask that her patients and colleagues could wear, Dr Izagaren has been working with a specialist engineering company to develop a prototype mask that would facilitate lip reading while meeting the necessary clinical requirements. KSS AHSN helped connect the doctor to an innovative designer to co-create a solution.

Impacts / outcomes

CARDMEDIC has been accessed by more than 8,000 people in 50 countries across continents. The system has been endorsed by NICE as accurately reflecting recommendations in NICE’s COVID-19 rapid guidelines.

Dr Grimaldi has Received Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award for assisting healthcare workers caring for those with Coronavirus across the world.

Dr Izagaren is close to producing a final prototype of the mask, and has presented at the House of Parliament All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness on the impact of face masks on healthcare professionals and patients within the NHS and the public.

Lessons learned

The outbreak of COVID-19 has identified potential health inequalities for patients, staff and clinicians in the health service who are deaf or hard of hearing. While the need for such measures as described above was exacerbated due to the increased need for PPE, it shouldn’t have taken COVID-19 to bring these problems to the fore.

Future plans / next steps

KSS AHSN plans to engage more closely with people leading the way in the workforce around issues of this nature and, where possible, support them to identify potential solutions, or connect them with product designers.

The AHSN is also matchmaking with other suppliers to deaf people (such as Desifa) and raising awareness of the products amongst deaf people through community groups, including the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People.