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Hospital tests app to help deaf people communicate during pandemic

A Cambridge hospital is using a free speech-to-text app to help its medical team, who are deaf or have hearing loss, to communicate more easily with patients.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital is trialling the LiveTranscribe and Sound Notifications app (LiveTranscribe) in the hope it will help team members to more easily follow and understand what a colleague or patient is saying when both parties are wearing face coverings or protective PPE.

Face coverings have caused a number of unintended consequences and communication difficulties for lots of people during the Coronavirus pandemic. Within the healthcare sector, staff have to wear masks, making it extremely difficult for any team member who relies on lipreading or sign language, to communicate effectively.

Although the clinical engineering team at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust had started to develop prototype clear masks for its medical team, they were keen to explore alternative solutions that may have been quicker to implement.

42 Technology suggested using the free Google app in a low cost Android smartphone or watch which could be worn on the user’s lapel or kept visible on the forearm using a sports arm strap. It also provided the option of using the smartwatch with with a Bluetooth microphone for use in noisier environments.

LiveTranscribe automatically transcribes text in near-real time, it can be enlarged on the screen so it’s easily read, and custom words, such as specialist medical terms, can be added into the dictionary if required. The electronics team at 42 Technology also contacted Google’s app development team to verify that conversations processed on their servers are not recorded or stored on them.

Richard Prudence, an electronics engineer at 42 Technology who worked with Addenbrooke’s Hospital on the project, said: “We thought the transcription app worked well, particularly in healthcare settings. But it could equally be used by anyone needing an alternative to lipreading now that face coverings are compulsory for all indoor settings and on public transport.

“The Google app uses existing off-the-shelf technology, and was fast and easy to set up compared with some other apps we trialled as part of this project.”

To find out more about useful apps that could support you, visit our webpage.  For information about COVID and hearing loss, read here.

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