PASHA opens up medical communication with non verbal tool

PEORIA (Heart of Illinois ABC) – The first moments in a medical emergency are critical. Paramedics need to assess the situation to provide medical care and communicate that with emergency doctors waiting at the hospital.

When words aren’t an option, that makes getting that care much more difficult.

“Communication is key when you’re talking about key medical care,” OSF EMS Director for Medical Care Matthew Jackson said. “Oftentimes we’re left guessing at what is wrong with that patient. It can lead to mistreatment, delay in treatment, delayed seat times and then also delayed treatment in the emergency department.”

The Peoria Area Speech and Hearing Association looked to make communication more accessible once they discovered there wasn’t a protocol in place for non-verbal patients; like those with autism, cerebral palsy, deaf or hard of hearing conditions or other conditions that make verbal communication difficult.

“There really isn’t anything out there, so this was all from scratch,” PASHA board member and speech language pathologist Carrie Kerr said.

Working with American Medical Transport, they developed an “assistive technology low-tech communication board” which is a laminated document containing pictures showing various symptoms, types and levels of pain and more.

The simplicity of the paper is purposeful. Using any technology comes with the risk that it will glitch out, go offline or not have enough power. The laminated paper is easy to store and always on hand.

Previously EMTs said they relied on text-to-speech apps on their phones. One said he had personal knowledge of sign language, but not every EMT has that.

Kerr said there are systems for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate, but they require some tech-savvy. In moments of high stress or injury that may not be possible.

“[Those devices] would require a lot of cognitive skills and in an emergency situation that’s not going to be the case,” Kerr said.

Both of the first responders who demonstrated the device said it was easy to use and helped them establish key details of what happened to the patient. Kerr believes it can be useful outside of strictly non-verbal patients, extending to those in shock or victims of a head injury.

“A lot of times when people are hurt or in a medical emergency, if they’re dealing with that pain or that language crisis may fall by the wayside,” said Kerr, who specialized in supplemental communication. “It might just be because of trauma and stress or might be because of a head injury or stroke and they find themselves at loss for verbal communications.”

Starting Wednesday, the technology is going to be used in AMT ambulances across the Tri-County area. They’re hoping the technology can expand. Kerr wants to provide virtual versions of the board to other agencies so they can refine it based on what they need.

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