VidaTalk app gives UCLA Health patients autonomy

The app allows patients with communication challenges to easily express basic needs and complex ideas to medical personnel and loved ones.

People suffering from the worst of COVID-19 must sometimes be intubated and placed on ventilators to aid breathing and orally intubated patients are unable to speak. Other inpatients are non-verbal for other reasons, or might not be able to express basic needs in their doctor’s language.

An iPad application called VidaTalk may allow patients with significant communication challenges to easily express basic needs or even complex ideas to medical personnel and loved ones, “giving these patients some degree of autonomy,” says Andrew Erman, director of Speech Pathology at UCLA Health.

Erman says the app is, “highly intuitive” and can be used in multiple languages.

“Sometimes a patient just wants to ask for something but they don’t speak English. Our hope is that with this app, nurses can swiftly find out what a patient needs, without the time required to reach an online interpreter for something small,” he says. “The app is to express basic needs and does not replace interpreter services.”

medical personnel looking at iPad
Rebecca Lahti, speech pathology supervisor, and Narine Oganyan, audiology and speech pathology administrative manager at UCLA Health

Narine Oganyan, audiology and speech pathology administrative manager, leads a team and coordinates with representatives, Rose Healy, from Nursing; Keith Cox, from Information Services and Solutions; and Speech Pathology to pilot this app in some UCLA inpatient units. The team also works closely with Respiratory Therapy, and Rehabilitation Services.

VidaTalk offers more than 100 simple phrases, to allow patients to express needs, feelings, pain level and location. The app has a keyboard on which patients may type messages and all patient inputs are spoken aloud by the app. The app also allows patients to communicate by drawing.

The app is available to all patients on all units, due to every patient room containing an iPad.

Rebecca Lahti, speech pathology supervisor, used the application with a head and neck cancer patient who recently had oral surgery and had a tracheostomy tube placed. The patient was unable to talk.

“The patient had pain in different parts of her body and was unable to express where the pain was located or the pain level at each site,” Lahti says. Using an image of the human body on VidaTalk, the patient was able to use the app to say where and how much pain she was experiencing.

“She had never seen the app before, but she used it instantly to quickly and effectively tell us about her significant pain,” Lahti says. “The patient then used the typing function to ask her nurse questions about care she was going to receive. Because of this app, the patient became an active partner in her own care.”

Oganyan is grateful patients have access to VidaTalk, especially during the pandemic when, “people have been less able to receive support from their loved ones,” she says. “We want to spread awareness of this app so that all UCLA Health care providers know it exists, and feel empowered to use it.”

Learn more about UCLA Health patient access services and assistance.