Visual Communication Alerts Project

Added on 27/05/2009

Sarah Higson (Patient and Public Involvement) and Lisa Parrish (Head Matron) at Ipswich Hospital introduced a simple but highly effective visual alerts scheme, enabling staff to identify and help patients who may have trouble communicating.

Following consultations with user groups at the Hospital in spring 2007, Sarah and Lisa identified the need for a way to identify patients with communication difficulties, particularly those with sight and hearing impairments. The idea of some kind of signage to be placed at the bedside was developed to enable staff to quickly and easily be aware of disabilities or impairments and the subsequent needs.

The team held discussions with patients, visitor representatives and hospital departments in order to identify patients' needs, and to develop appropriate symbols. As well as sight and hearing impairment, difficulties highlighted included 'at risk of falling', 'dementia/memory problems' and 'interpreter needed'. Symbols were produced on small, subtle magnets which could be fixed next to the patient's notes at the end of the bed and a leaflet and guidelines were developed to help patients, family and staff adopt the system.

Ward staff discussed with patients which symbols were most appropriate and only used them with the patients consent. Patients and their visitors have been strong advocates of the new alerts system feeding back to staff that they give reassurance and prevent embarrassment they may feel having to raise problems with staff. The symbols have saved staff time in handovers and enabled them to tailor the care the patients receive to their own specific needs and deliver a service which is flexible and personal.

The scheme is so simple and effective that it was widely used and has received much interest from other acute hospitals across the country interested in starting up similar projects. New symbols can easily be introduced, allowing the system to grow and develop in the future.

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