UC student develops tool for health care workers interacting with COVID-19 patients

Tool helps providers treat patients with communication challenges

Clear, concise communication is one of the key elements for health care providers in treating patients. With many COVID-19 patients requiring treatment on ventilators and respirators, communication is a big hurdle. A doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS) is developing a tool designed to help bridge that critical gap. 

The communication tool is the work of Chitrali Ramakant Mamlekar, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department (CSD) in CAHS.

a woman wearing glasses and a sweatshirt smiling at the camera

Chitrali Mamlekar of the UC College of Allied Health Sciences who developed a tool for health care workers to communicate with COVID-19 patients with communication challenges.

“In the absence of family members, patients are isolated. There needs to be a way for the patients to successfully communicate with their health care providers,” says Mamlekar.

Using their mobile device, the patient can indicate on the home screen of the app what COVID-19 symptoms they have, if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, their travel history along with concerns and needs they have. In the travel history section, for example, the patient can report if they used public transport while traveling and if they went to a shopping venue or religious institution. Under the needs section, the patient can let the provider know if they need a mask, some water or have to go to the bathroom. 

The design of the tool was guided by information gathered from a survey Mamlekar distributed during the third week of April 2020 to health care providers across the nation. Mamlekar says 222 surveys were returned, with providers indicating they had a problem communicating with COVID-19 patients. Of those respondents, roughly 75% indicated that they would be in favor of using a tool focused on patient/provider communication. 

a screen shot of a page on an app where a COVID-19 patient can describe pain concerns to a health care provider

The patient concerns panel of the communications tool

“We spoke to a neurologist at UC Health and other health care providers to determine their needs and how the patient information form could best capture all this data,” says Mamlekar. “Using that input, we created a simple tool to support communication with people who are on a ventilator, wearing masks or are unable to speak because of respiratory challenges.”

The tool includes a page for patients to describe how they are feeling emotionally, if they are worried or have trouble sleeping. There is also a page for the patient to describe the location and severity of any pain they have. 

Mamlekar earned her master’s in audiology and speech-language pathology in India and was interested in doing more work with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), which encompasses the communication methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those with impairments in spoken or written language. While working in a medical setting in her hometown of Mumbai, she started applying for positions related to AAC. During that process, she learned of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), a professional association for speech–language pathologists, audiologists and speech, language and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally. Through the ASHA, Mamlekar became aware of the work of Aimee Dietz, PhD, professor in CSD in the UC college who specializes in the area of AAC interface design. Mamlekar moved to Cincinnati in 2016 after being accepted into the CAHS doctoral program.

Data about the communication tool will continue to be collected this summer. Mamlekar says she is looking to get feedback from health care providers on ways it can be improved. After that, she plans to write a grant to support transitioning the communication tool to a fully developed application. Learn more about the project here.

Lead image of the Health Sciences Building/Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

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