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Interview: Adventures in app development

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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.

Penny Trayner, Goal Manager

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 neuropsychological rehabilitation service has pioneered 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, “the use of technology to augment and improve services has been considered a luxury.

“Great if you can have it, but not 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 now become necessary.

“And as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. “We actually started building Gola Manager a few years ago, way ahead of COVID-19, as I recognised the need long ago for such a tool.”

“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 is something that my team and I needed to create, to do the very best for our patients.”

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

“Admittedly this isn’t my only foray into programme development – when I’m not being a psychologist, I am also a professional DJ. Last year, I developed a DJing for rehabilitation programme with a platinum award winning DJ and tutor, DJ Mark One, who created the new GCSE curriculum in DJing.”

As clinicians building an app for clinicians, Penny and her team knew exactly what they wanted Goal Manager 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 wanted that to look like as technology, then completely changing it with more thought and testing.

“But it’s not always the obvious that holds things up – for example, ensuring that the platform follows data protection guidelines took careful consideration. 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 really had to consider what was the essential information that had to be stored on Goal Manager and what could be held elsewhere, and how these different systems could them seamlessly communicate.

“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 to programme. But what we assumed would be easy became much more complicated than expected – choosing colours, layouts and fonts seemed to take much more time than programming the underpinning software!”

Goal Manager 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.

“We are now looking to work with as many healthcare providers as possible, particularly the NHS but also large hospitals an rehabilitation centres, to implement Goal Manager into their own teams, including looking at a wider range of rehabilitation contexts such as stroke, spinal, cardiac, and 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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