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Interview: Adventures in app development



Brain injury recovery involves a small army of professionals, spanning different environments and specialisms. Among them are the doctors, physios, neuropsychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists; and case managers who help  coordinate this collective effort.

Standing on the sidelines, meanwhile, are the individual’s loved ones; those who knew the original version of a person, willing the patient back to their old self – or at least the closest possible variant.

A crucial force uniting both of these sides of recovery is the patient’s goals. These can range from big functional aims, such as speech or walking, to the little things taken for granted, like playing football with your kids or simply making a cup of tea without supervision.

With the overall goal of aiding the patient’s recovery top priority, a team of neuropsychologists have joined forces to pioneer an app that aims to revolutionise how rehab professionals work together to achieve this.

That app is Goal Manager, a cloud-based software platform supporting rehabilitation goal setting for multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) in remote locations. In more simple terms, it means that goal planning, review, communication and evaluation can all be made and accessed remotely from absolutely anywhere.

While this is a revolutionary step forward in the field of neuroscience, what can it mean for other areas of medical and psychological care and how can other health professionals use this model for their own fields? Health Tech World met paediatric clinical neuropsychologist, and founder of Goal Manager, Dr Penny Trayner (pictured) to find out.

“Until now,” says Penny, “things such as augmentation and making service better have been considered luxuries, things that aren’t necessary.” But thanks to COVID-19 and the new ways of working that it has brought – including social distancing and working from home – apps such as this have become necessary. And as they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

“I always assumed that surely somewhere in the world there was already something like this, especially with how many millions of people work in rehabilitation. No matter what conference I attended in any country, there was nothing on the market. I’m pleased that I didn’t let this assumption hold me back, and I knew it’s something my team of fellow doctors and I needed to create.”

As someone who decided to enter psychology as she “wanted to work with human beings”, Penny was surprised to find herself working with technology and becoming an engineer. She said: “I am a lone psychologist in a family of engineers but I’ve ended up coming full circle but it goes to show how the two things in the modern world are intrinsically interlinked – that we use technology to improve people’s lives.

“Although admittedly this isn’t my first foray into programme development – when I’m not being a psychologist I developed a DJ-ing for rehabilitation programme with a platinum award winning DJ Trainer and GCSE examiner.”

As doctors building an app for doctors, Penny and her team knew exactly what they wanted the app to do – automate and speed up a clinical process – and what needed to be taken into consideration.

“Development took a long time,” she explains, “thinking about the manual process and how that works, what we want that to look like as technology, then completely changing it with more thought.

“But it’s not always the obvious – ensuring the programme follows GDPR guidelines for example. Knowing that due to the remote nature of the app it could be opened anywhere, meant that we couldn’t risk identifying patient data being revealed. We overcame this by using initials instead of names – simple but effective. We really had to consider what was the essential information that had to be stored on Goal Manager and what could be held elsewhere.

“As they say, it takes a village, and we were really lucky to work with a software developer who is innovative, experienced and thinks about things in the context of wider health, and general, technology, that we as clinicians may miss or not understand.

“What we thought would be complicated, such as instant reports and automatic email reminders turned out to be simple. But what we assumed would be easy became much more complicated than expected – choosing colours, layouts and fonts took much more time than programming the underpinning software!”

Not only has this app received no external investment, it has gone on to receive wide acclaim alongside its creators, being acknowledged by the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF), in being awarded the inaugural Mike Barnes Award for Innovation in 2019.

“I now want to talk to as many healthcare providers as possible, particularly the NHS but also large hospitals about implementing Goal Manager into their own teams, as well as looking at a wider range of rehabilitation contexts such as spinal or even COVID-19.

“The world is changing – organically and by force – and we want to change with it to achieve the best results possible for our patients.”

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