Happ's RWJF-funded program improves ICU patient communication

Columbus, OH (January 23, 2014) —Improving communication to improve patient care in intensive care units

New evidence-based online learning modules include communications strategies and tools for helping critically ill patients who cannot speak

Each year, more than 800,000 critically ill patients are unable to speak because they are ventilated or using artificial airways. That inability to communicate can lead to anxiety, frustration, and potentially panic, putting those patients at greater risk for preventable adverse events.

A research team funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative developed and tested a program including web-based communications training for nurses, resources to use with patients and bedside teaching rounds provided by a speech pathologist called SPEACS-2 (Study of Patient-Nurse Effectiveness with Assisted Communication Strategies). The program improves nurses’ knowledge of, comfort with and satisfaction communicating with mechanically ventilated patients.

Now the SPEACS-2 communications training program is available online at http://go.osu.edu/speacs. It consists of tools, resources, and six ten-minute interactive learning modules, which include:

  • Introduction to the SPEACS-2 program and assessment to determine how best to use the communications strategies and tools;
  • Techniques to help patients better understand questions and instructions, assessing patients’ ability to communicate and establishing communications with patients;
  • Techniques to help patients who are cognitively impaired understand and communicate;
  • Techniques to better support and understand patients’ “unaided” communications, such as gestures or mouthing words;
  • Techniques and materials to assess and support patients’ written communications; and
  • Demonstrations of communications strategies to use with patients with impaired movement or attention, and a presentation of the role of a speech language pathologist in assisting with communication.

Nurses and other health care providers can download and print communications tools and resources from the SPEACS-2 Communication Training Program website that are intended for use in implementing the program. They include a communication and assessment planning algorithm, which also comes in pocket-size; picture and letter boards to use with patients; topic and message lists for patients; lists of common gestures; and much more.

Nurses can earn one continuing education credit for completing the program by visiting http://go.osu.edu/speacs.

The INQRI-funded research team that developed and tested SPEACS-2 was led by Mary Beth Happ, PhD, RN, FAAN. Happ is the Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Critical Care Research and director of the Center of Excellence in Critical and Complex Care at The Ohio State University and Amber Barnato, MD, MPH, MS, associate professor of Medicine and of Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The study was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh.

INQRI supports interdisciplinary teams of nurse scholars and scholars from other disciplines to address the gaps in knowledge about the relationship between nursing and health care quality. It is helping to advance the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) landmark report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which include fostering interprofessional collaboration and preparing and enabling nurses to lead change. By requiring research teams to include a nurse scholar and at least one scholar from another health care discipline, INQRI not only fosters interprofessional collaboration, the Initiative also increases the methodological rigor of the research conducted. 

The Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To learn more, visit www.inqri.org, or follow on Twitter at @INQRIProgram.

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 For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.