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Winning idea gives Gold Coast patients a voice

Mark Westlake, who uses assistive technology and equipment to communicate, with senior speech pathologists Ashleigh Farr and Matt Ernst.

Gold Coasters with limited communication are benefitting from a Queensland-first lending library of communication devices funded through the annual Gold Coast Health staff innovation awards known as The Improvers.

Patients with degenerative conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) or those recovering from stroke or Guillain-Barré syndrome can borrow 21 specialised devices or iPads to assist with everyday communication tasks like typing emails, communicating with loved ones or calling for medical assistance in hospital.

The device lending library was the brainchild of speech pathologists Matt Ernst and Ashleigh Farr, along with occupational therapists Amanda McCowan and Deborah Coutts, who secured $50,000 in funding in the 2017 Improvers event.
The resource is being highlighted during Speech Pathology Week from 19-25 August which has the theme ‘Communication access is communication for all’.

Since Mark Westlake was diagnosed with MND in April 2017 his ability to swallow and speak has been affected.

He has been able to access assistance devices including an iPad and an eye gaze device while working with his speech pathologist at Helensvale Community Health Centre.

“Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices have enabled me to maintain a level of independence and give me a voice where I wouldn’t otherwise have one.

“The ClaroCom app allows me to answer yes or no to questions or type words or sentences which the app can vocalise for me. I can store phrases by category, like coffee shop – ‘can I have a cappuccino please?’.

“This system has been my only means of communication for some time now, as I can’t write, and even using the iPad is becoming more difficult as my hands lose function.”

Speech pathologist Matt Ernst said the library had been established for a few months now and was a great asset for Gold Coast Health patients.

“Communicating basic needs is essential for patients in the health system and community, so this simple idea is helping eliminate much of the frustration for patients who either have lost the ability to communicate or are regaining their abilities,” Mr Ernst said.

“Costing $7000 to $10,000 each, these devices are out of reach for most people and an informal arrangement with device suppliers had a long wait list, so setting up the communication aid library for people living on the Gold Coast is a great innovation.”

Mr Ernst said the devices were adding to the quality of life for some patients with communication difficulties.

“Our patients are able to borrow these devices at no cost, based on a referral from their speech pathologist or occupational therapist, so this will make a significant difference to their lives,” he said.

Gold Coast Health’s team of speech pathologists provide services to individuals who have communication and swallowing problems at Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Hospital and through community-based facilities at Southport, Robina and Helensvale.

Last updated 23 Aug 2018