Doctor designs digital flashcards to bridge PPE communication barrier

CardMedic was developed by NHS anaesthetist Dr Rachael Grimaldi to help improve the transfer of vital information between healthcare professionals wearing PPE and critically ill patients.

An NHS doctor has designed and developed a series of digital flashcards, in a bid to bridge the communication barrier posed by medical staff wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

PPE has been a frequent topic of discussion throughout the coronavirus pandemic, not least because of nationwide shortages. But while it has been universally accepted as a necessity when treating COVID-19, the use of masks, visors and hoods can significantly hinder understanding between patients and medical staff.

CardMedic then is the brainchild of Dr Rachael Grimaldi, an anaesthetist who works with the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust. Currently unable to be patient-facing due to being on maternity leave, she says she was “desperate” to do something to help her colleagues.

Dr Grimaldi says she was prompted into action when she read a news article describing a COVID-19 survivor’s “terrifying” experience of not being able to understand the people trying to save his life.

Pages on the CardMedic app

“Simple and succinct”

The initiative works, Dr Grimaldi explains, by providing healthcare professionals with an “A-Z index” of digital flashcards.

Topics covered on the cards range from personal introductions, to asking for a patient’s medical history or explaining the next steps in their treatment and each are organised into different categories. These digital communication aids can be used either on a patient’s or hospital’s smartphone, tablet or laptop.

At the core of the project is a “simple and succinct” way of communicating, according to Dr Grimaldi.

“[CardMedic uses] basic language to share information and describe the plan of action,” she says. Simple language is beneficial for both patient and professional, she adds, since doctors will more easily be able to find the phrases they’re looking for, while patients should have no trouble understanding the content of those messages.

The A-Z index from the CardMedic website

As “widely accessible” as possible

Beyond just written messages, Dr Grimaldi and the CardMedic team have also branched out into other communication barriers present in the fight against the coronavirus.

Aiming to be as “widely accessible” as possible, the digital flashcards have the option to be read aloud (either via the web or app) for patients that are either too unwell, are unable to read, or for those who are partially sighted or blind.

Additionally, the team are currently working on developing an app that will include illustrators and videos for British Sign Language users to better understand what is being said around them.

More screens for the CardMedic app

7,800 users, 10 languages, 49 countries

Since first establishing the initiative at the beginning of April, Dr Grimaldi says there has been considerable interest from medical professionals around the world – so much so that CardMedic’s flashcards have so far been translated into 10 languages and downloaded by users in 49 countries.

It has been a quick turnaround since inception, she adds, saying that from concept to launch, the process took around 72 hours. After launching, the Department for International Trade became involved in the project, advising Dr Grimaldi to apply for Innovate UK funding.

“Initially, I thought I would share the site with colleagues,” she says. “I never envisaged it would have grown so rapidly and at such a pace.”

Alongside developing a platform for British Sign Language users, the team is also working on expanding to 30 different languages, and is “currently working with a hospital in Australia to translate [the flashcards] into African, Asian and European dialects.”

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