UCLA medical student develops, markets communication board for intubated patients

10/19/04

Over the years, UCLA Medical Center nurse Lance Patak cared for too many critically ill patients who couldn't communicate their needs due to the endotracheal tubes that went through their vocal cords, making speech impossible. So he developed an easy-to-use augmentative communication board that intubated patients could use to make their needs known to their caregivers and family members with a simple mark of a felt-tipped pen.

Over the past five years the E-Z Board has proven such a hot item in hospitals that Patak has just begun actively looking for distributors.

The lightweight, flexible E-Z Board is organized so that the patient can easily inform the caregiver of all of his or her conceivable needs. For example, the patient can communicate thirst, cold, hunger, anger, or pain; wants to sit up, a pillow, to exercise, or a blanket; needs someone to clean his or her mouth or face; or simply wants to say "thank you." All require no more effort on the patient's part than marking a box next to the appropriate selection with an attached wet-erase marker.

Both patient and caregiver benefit as a result.

"You cannot treat a patient based on objective data alone," says Patak, now a third-year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "To leave a patient unable to communicate effectively at such a critical time is not only negligent, but is unkind and not grounded in medical practice. We cannot treat a patient solely on objective findings. We have to obtain subjective information from the patient whenever possible."

Patak, 32, first came up with the concept in 1998, when he was a nursing assistant at the UCLA Medical Center while studying at the California State University at Los Angeles School of Nursing, and was caring for two lung transplant patients who couldn't communicate with their care providers or family over a period of eleven months while in the intensive care unit. Generally, patients such as this relay their needs via notes or an alphabet sheet--neither of which is adequate because the former are frequently illegible and the latter often result in misspellings, which can lead to confusion and frustration for patients.

"The whole problem is these patients wake up from surgery, they have all these compelling questions and concerns but have no way to transfer this information to the people caring for them," Patak says. "So they are 100 percent dependent on their care provider anticipating their needs."

In fact, Patak led a research project that looked at the levels of frustration intubated patients experience in trying to communicate their needs. The results, "Patients' Reports of Health Care Practitioner Interventions That Are Related to Communication During Mechanical Ventilation," was just published in the September/October issue of Heart & Lung.

The research, which focused on 29 critically ill patients, found that 62 percent reported a high level of frustration in communicating their needs to their care givers; 24 percent said they found the experience frustrating or somewhat frustrating; and only 14 percent reported no frustration in communicating their needs during mechanical ventilation.

"Mechanically ventilated patients are unable to vocalize feelings, verify perceptions and cope with fears, anxiety, and stress through verbal communication," the report said.

As a result, the caregiver is forced to interpret the patients' non-verbal communication such as mouthing, gesticulating, nodding and writing--which can be difficult for the critically ill patient. "Such nonverbal methods require excess energy and are fatiguing and emotionally draining for these patients," the report said.

Patak developed the E-Z Board in 1999 and, since then, has sold some 20,000 to over 200 hospitals nationwide through his company, Vidatak, LLC (http://www.vidatak.com/). It's become such a success, in fact, that in November 2003, he began marketing it with the help of medical school friend, Bryan Traughber, who has changed the focus of Vidatak from being a distribution company to one incorporating a business model.

"If the business doesn't succeed, the means for distribution fails," says Traughber.

Prior to this, hospitals could order the board only by calling an 877 number. Internet advertising has been the main focus thus far. On April 18 the company added a shopping cart to the Web site. An order came in that day. Now, the company has begun to approach distributors with established relationships with hospitals. They're specifically targeting three key areas that have patients that would benefit most from the board: rehabilitation medicine, speech pathology and critical care.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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