Rebranded and updated “Speak for Myself – Voice” app now available

An app developed by a University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) faculty member to help patients with disabilities better communicate with caregivers has been updated, and the rebranded product is now available for Apple devices.

The tool was named “Speak for Myself” when we published this article in January 2017 that described how Rebecca Koszalinski was inspired by her own disability to find a way to help others who require communication assistance.

“My heart is with people who have disabilities,” the Assistant Professor of Nursing said at the time, describing the challenges she faced when a gymnastic injury resulted in Koszalinski ending-up in a wheelchair for a period in her life.

Now, thanks to the involvement of Xueping Li, a fellow UTK Professor and Co-Director of the institution’s Health Innovation Technology and Simulation Laboratory (HITS), the latest version of the app – named SFM-V for “Speak for Myself – Voice” – is now available in the App Store for iPhone and iPad only.

“It’s available for free,” Koszalinski says, giving credit to the UT Research Foundation (UTRF) for providing the necessary funding to finalize the update and complete her decade-long journey to provide the much needed tool that was developed for end-users who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida. SFM-V allows users to easily communicate with their providers in acute-care settings by indicating their pain level, specific needs, and advanced care planning preferences.

As noted on the UTRF website, the timing of the release several weeks ago could not have been more relevant. “Illnesses like COVID-19 make it difficult for patients to communicate with their caregivers and family,” UTRF writes about the technology. “SFM-V is a communication app designed for patients who are unable to speak due to mechanical ventilation, tracheostomy, head and neck trauma, obstruction, or communication disabilities.”

Koszalinski said the latest version was tested with patients at the UT Medical Center before it was released. “They felt more empowered and had less depression,” she said, adding, “Apps like SFM-V can assist healthcare providers and patients in communication, symptom management, self-care, and behavioral modification. Rather than replacing personal care, apps place patients in the driver’s seat. They learn how to manage their needs as a partner in their own healthcare.”

Both Koszalinski and the university remind users that it is a tool with this important reminder posted on the HITS webpage: “The SFM-V mobile app does not diagnosis or treat any health condition and is not a substitute for professional physical or mental health care. The app does not receive messages or collect data from app users.”

Her work has also drawn national attention, both for its innovation and also because she plays on the national stage as a founding member of the Society of Nurse Scientists Innovators Entrepreneurs & Leaders (SONSIEL). Late last year, Koszalinski participated as a pre-pitch mentor during the “SONSIEL Hackathon” that was supported by Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, and Dev Up.

“Hackers focused on real-time solutions for COVID-19 patient care challenges by leveraging technological solutions,” she said. “Competing groups consisted of nurses, other healthcare professionals, tech enthusiasts, and engineers as well as anyone else interested in contributing to tech solutions.” Both J&J and SONSIEL support the development and release of SFM-V as a contributory solution to communication difficulties for patients who were intubated or otherwise unable to verbalize needs.

“I’m proud of the work we have done,” Koszalinski says, noting that the latest version reflects an interdisciplinary collaboration between the UTK Tickle College of Engineering and the College of Nursing where she has been an Assistant Professor. As far as further refinements in the app, she says those will come from HITS. She has accepted a position as an Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Oklahoma where, ironically as it might seem, one of her responsibilities will be to serve as the liaison between engineering and nursing faculty.

“I have loved my time here,” Koszalinski says.

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