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TUH introduces eye-gaze communication device for patients

 Sarah Rowland, Clinical Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH)  holding the eye-gaze communication device



“The Grid 3 eye-gaze device is hugely beneficial for patients who are ventilated and/or tracheotomised in that it can give them a voice,” according to Sarah Rowland, Clinical Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH). “The device can be accessed via typing, different switch points, pointing, or using eye-gaze tracking. Being able to communicate with medical staff really helps patients to engage in decisions around their care and rehabilitation, which is so important for their overall well-being.”

TUH recently became the first hospital across Dublin to introduce a fully funded eye-gaze communication device for patients in their Critical Care Unit. The introduction of the device was driven by Sarah, who works solely in Critical Care, and who has a strong interest in critical care swallow and communication, including the impact of intubation, ventilator weaning processes, and tracheostomy management. 

As part of her work in the Intensive Care Unit, Sarah saw the need for a Grid 3 eye-gaze communication device for patients and put together a detailed application to secure funding from the Trinity College Med Day, an annual fundraising event run by medical students at TCD.

Sarah adds that Grid 3 also “enables patients to use speech synthesis text-to-speech apps. By using the tablet patients can also control their environment in ICU, where, for example, they can turn on and off light switches and change the channel on the TV. With the help of Ciara Fitzsimons, Speech and Language Therapist, and along with our fellow augmentative and alternative communications (AAC) expert colleagues in the Central Remedial Clinical, we have trialled the Grid 3 assistive software with patients here in TUH and it has proven very beneficial.”

Patients can operate the Grid 3 software (which runs on a standard tablet screen) using switch technology, as well as touch or pointing devices. Switches are used by people with disabilities who cannot access a keyboard, touchscreen, or any type of pointer control. They are suitable for people with physical, intellectual, or cognitive disabilities, as they provide an easy way to access and control electronic devices.

Research has shown that loss of voice for hospital patients may have not just a substantial negative effect on their mood, but also restricts their level of choice, leading to difficulty participating in their care planning and rehabilitation. Patients have also reported that voicelessness is one of the most distressing aspects of their ICU experience and voice is valued more highly than other communication options.