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Breaking down the barriers in communications

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As an idea which went from concept to reality within 72 hours when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, CardMedic is now breaking down longstanding communication barriers in healthcare internationally by transforming a simple idea into a hugely-successful TechforGood startup. Health Tech World meets co-founder Dr Rachael Grimaldi

 

The image in the media of a terrified COVID patient, overwhelmed by trauma and unable to communicate with medical staff through the PPE barrier, was something that really resonated with Dr Rachael Grimaldi. 

As the pandemic began to descend on the UK in early March last year, Dr Grimaldi was stranded in the United States, with flights home cancelled seven times – meaning all she could do was watch the horror unfold on television. 

“I’m an anaesthetist, which uses the exact skills that were needed, but there was nothing I could do. I was watching everything fall apart in the UK and felt totally helpless,” she recalls. 

“I was glued to Sky News and there was a story I read about a patient in intensive care who was clearly terrified at not being able to communicate with the team. 

“I spoke to friends back in the UK every day who work in the NHS and they said they’d experienced this – and in reality, communication barriers in healthcare are nothing new. I asked whether they were writing notes on paper, and while they were, I realised there was nothing readily available or scaleable in this fast-developing crisis situation.”

From there came the idea for CardMedic – a communication tool designed to improve the transfer of vital information between healthcare staff and patients, through the use of digital flashcards showing an ever-growing series of pre-written questions and phrases from across the spectrum of healthcare. 

Within 72 hours, the venture had gone from concept to launch. Dr Grimaldi’s husband Tim, who has specialism in digital marketing, designed a website which within three weeks had attracted 8,000 users from 50 countries wanting to access CardMedic’s resources. 

“Initially we only shared it with friends in the hope it would help them, but once we went onto Twitter, it really took off,” says Dr Grimaldi, who works in Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust.  

“Through creating an A to Z list of pre-written scripts, which replicate conversations around common topics, we designed something that can flex that at the point of care. It is a very simple idea, but one which addresses long-standing issues which had never been more important to tackle.”

Now, CardMedic, which launched in March 2020 but only commercialised in April this year, is used by 50,000 users in over 120 countries and its flashcards have been translated into 30 languages. 

 

Among the significant endorsements and array of awards it has already received is a glowing testimonial from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hails CardMedic’s ability to “harness the power of technology to restore vital communication”. 

Its adoption nationally is gathering pace, with international expansion planned thereafter. In the UK, various pilot projects are ongoing, with the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust recently being announced as a flagship site. CardMedic is also used by the Kent Sussex and Surrey Air Ambulance.

Expanding far beyond the original written notes, there is now an integrated speech to text translation tool. CardMedic also uses an easy read format with pictures, as well as Read Aloud, for people with additional communication barriers. Incorporation of sign language is planned for the near future. 

While the desperate need for a solution like CardMedic was laid bare during the pandemic, its use extends way beyond that, creating significant potential for the future globally – its status in that regard confirmed through being names among the Department for International Trade’s 25 Ones to Watch.

“There are so many longstanding barriers to good communication in healthcare. There aren’t enough resources for in-person support for every person in hospital – if there is the need for a translator who can speak a person’s native language, or access to a speech and language therapist, there aren’t enough resources or staff for that to happen,” says Dr Grimaldi. 

“Healthcare is complicated at the best of times, without additional barriers. Through creating this tool, we can help overcome these barriers at the point of care.

“We are being contacted all the time by people in healthcare who are writing content for us, to add further to the library. We’ve had radiographers, nurses, midwives, dentists, doctors, researchers, it has been a fantastic response. We are growing our content continually and want to continue to do so.”

The progress of CardMedic has been supported by funding from Innovate UK, alongside angel investment, and has already assembled a sizeable team of experts in their fields to support its rapid growth. The business has also taken part in two accelerator programmes with Oxford University Hospitals’ TheHill and the US-based MassChallange accelerator, while Dr Grimaldi was recently awarded a coveted place on the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur programme to further propel CardMedic to the next level. 

But as well as the core business, the CardMedic Foundation has also been created to help support communication in healthcare globally in less privileged parts of the world, including refugee camps and developing countries, contributing towards the global health equality mission of WHO Global Health Policy & UN Sustainable Development. 

“At our core we have a social enterprise feel, we are committed to using tech for good,” says Dr Grimaldi. 

“We understand how supporting underserved, marginalised communities improves health, and by enabling people to understand what medical staff are saying to them, they are more likely to engage with healthy living, taking their medication, and they will also be able to ask questions. 

“We’re working with refugees in Kenya through StepUp.One and are also employing refugees in mature UNHCR camps as part of our team. 

“Working with refugees really speaks to what we stand for, and in the longer-term, we want to provide grants for female entrepreneurs who are refugees. It’s very exciting.” 

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