Barts Health and UCLPartners design new app to help people with learning disabilities | Our news

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Barts Health and UCLPartners design new app to help people with learning disabilities

  • Barts Health NHS Trust and UCLPartners have partnered with software developers Maldaba and implemented a new application to improve quality of care for people with cognitive impairment, specifically adults with a learning disability

  • ‘Hear Me Now’ is an app and content-sharing remote web service designed for and with people with cognitive disabilities

  • Nearly 40 outpatients living with learning disabilities were supported with the Hear Me Know app at the Royal London Hospital between May 2019 and January 2021.

Barts Health NHS Trust, with support from UCLPartners, has collaborated with software developers Maldaba to implement an application to improve quality of care for people with cognitive impairment, specifically adults with a learning disability.

‘Hear Me Now’ is an app and content-sharing remote web service designed for and with people with cognitive disabilities.

The app can be used by the person or with support from family/carers. Information can be recorded in word, photo, audio, or video format which is then stored in easy-to-organise “boxes”. This information can then be readily shared with healthcare staff and carers, either in person or by using the internet-based sharing platform, also supplied with the app.

The app aims to better and more quickly understand an individual’s needs, saving time in appointments as a result. It also aims to empower patients, improve contact and communication between patients and clinical staff and create more joined care across clinical services. It also supports better management of transition between services i.e. from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to adult services.

There are currently 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK, with the Covid-19 pandemic bringing another layer of healthcare challenges.

Under the leadership of Professor Amitava Banerjee, Honorary consultant cardiologist at Barts Health NHS Trust and Dr Richard Fitzgerald, Academic Clinical Fellow in Special Care Dentistry at Barts Health, a pilot of Hear Me Now was conducted at the Royal London Hospital and people with learning disabilities were involved in the project team to create the project literature.

Nearly 40 outpatients living with learning disabilities were supported with the Hear Me Now app at the Royal London Hospital between May 2019 and January 2021. People with learning disabilities, their family and carers and staff were all trained on the app. Many self-reported improvement in quality of care.

After using the app for 12 months, participants were followed up and 30 provided feedback. The majority (26/30) found the app helpful and easy to use and nearly two thirds agreed it helped communication at healthcare appointments. The primary use for the app was to record healthcare information and other uses, including: collection of important information for emergencies, informing carers when no family were present at healthcare appointments, and keeping up-to-date on status of current health.

Dr Richard Fitzgerald said: “It was quite clear through the interviews with participants and their families that the Hear Me Now app was well-liked and effective. One of the most interesting findings for me were that family members reported a feeling of reassurance that all medical information was in one place if it was needed for emergencies. Alongside this it was interesting to see that the self-reported use of the app was high, suggesting that worries about digital literacy in this population may be unfounded.” 

Lorenzo Gordon, Co-founder of Maldaba, the solution provider who have created Hear Me Now said: “This research at Barts Health NHS Trust has helped show that Hear Me Now is easy to use and improves communications between patients and professionals across sectors and parts of the health and care system. We are looking forward to using the insight gained from this project to develop Hear Me Now further and to work with other NHS partners to enable new ways of delivering support within the healthcare system for people with learning disabilities.

Elias Zapantis, Deputy Head – Commercial & Innovation, UCLPartners said: “Our role is to support innovative health technologies on their path to adoption and scale up into the NHS. We were keen to support the implementation of Maldaba’s app as it is both an empowering tool for patients with cognitive disabilities and helps improve doctor-patient communication. We are pleased to see the impact this has had at Barts and the potential it has to make a difference for those with learning difficulties across the UK.

The project was awarded a research dissemination prize from the British Society of Disability and Oral Health to present project findings at an international conference and Dr Richard Fitzgerald, was awarded a DigitalHealth.London Digital Pioneers Fellowship through the project work.

Maldaba now plans to conduct other evaluative projects of Hear Me Now to see how it can enable and improve the take up and quality of the annual health checks for people with learning disabilities. This project will be taking place in North East London NHS Foundation Trust and NHS trusts in the South West.

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