A 'voice' for patients

A ‘voice’ for patients

College of Nursing researcher receives $1 million for GatorVoice project

By Anna Suggs

Carmen Rodriguez

A UF College of Nursing assistant professor has received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a speech-generating device for patients who cannot speak.

Carmen Rodriguez, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., received funding from the NIH Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research program to support the development of “GatorVoice,” a device to help suddenly speechless hospital patients communicate their needs.

“GatorVoice will provide reliable communication strategies to communicate safety, comfort and care needs, thus improving communication between suddenly speechless patients and health care staff,” Rodriguez said.

The idea for GatorVoice originated from Rodriguez’s dissertation project, which focused on identifying pain measurement strategies for head and neck cancer patients who had lost the ability to speak. Her research found that patients and nurses experienced significant frustration when they could not communicate effectively.

During the first phase of the project, the team developed GatorVoice as a unique software running on a tablet computer and examined its feasibility and usability in the hospital setting. The $1 million Phase 2 grant, which was awarded by the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, will last for two years. The Phase 2 team also includes Meredeth Rowe, Ph.D., R.N.; Lori Thomas, Ph.D., A.R.N.P.; and Brent Koeppel, M.S., SLP.

Rodriguez said for the next two years, the team will further develop GatorVoice as a stand-alone software program that embeds in hardware devices conducive to the hospital setting. They also will determine whether it improves communication between speechless patients and health care staff.

“We aim to develop technology that is reliable in facilitating communication between the hospitalized, suddenly speechless patient and health care staff, and consequently, prevent complications that may result from inability to summon staff in an emergency or patients’ inability to accurately communicate needs,” she said.