Lorna Currey, a current Topol Digital Fellow, outlines the challenges she has encountered and discoveries she has made since starting her Fellowship in her second blog.

Since my first blog post , my mission to address communication challenges in Northampton General Hospital's Emergency Department (ED) has revealed some compelling insights.

The next steps of my project began with high hopes, supported by TPXImpact’s valuable workshop on discovery research and insights from Iain O’Neil's presentation on transformation in the NHS. Armed with newfound knowledge, I delved into user experience research only to discover that engaging with stakeholders isn't always straightforward. The ED is a dynamic environment, where my colleagues are continuously immersed in demanding tasks. Adapting my research to their routines has required flexibility and careful planning. Digital resources have played a crucial role in my research, and I found that my colleagues prefer online surveys to in-person participation. While seeking patient perspectives, I had several promising discussions with local organisations. However, maintaining ongoing involvement has proven challenging, prompting me to reconsider my approach. Email, although convenient, doesn't always capture attention; perhaps being more visible in person and forming direct connections within the community will yield better results.

Exploration into my ED colleagues' use of the existing telephone interpretation service revealed a harsh reality. Instances of staff dissatisfaction and service unavailability during time-critical emergencies have highlighted the pressing need for a more dependable solution. Many of my colleagues exhibit remarkable ingenuity in bridging language gaps and are proactively seeking alternatives to overcome communication barriers. They often utilise mobile applications to facilitate interactions with patients who have limited English proficiency. This resourcefulness demonstrates the vital role that digital tools can play in healthcare, even when they might not be officially integrated into the hospital's systems.

Obtaining accurate clinical information from patients is of paramount importance to my colleagues as this data is crucial for assessing, diagnosing, and providing appropriate treatment. In contrast, I found that patients often prioritise the emotional aspects of communication. They value kindness and words that convey care and understanding. This revelation is a key reminder that it's not just the exchange of medical information that matters; it's also the human connection and support that contributes to the overall patient experience. Finding a solution that bridges these two sets of needs is pivotal and calls for a nuanced approach that integrates both clinical precision and compassion.

Initially, my goal revolved around discovering a real-time, on-the-fly interpretation tool to transcend language barriers instantly. The idea of seamless, immediate interpretation has long been a fascination of science-fiction authors, symbolising humanity's universal craving for effective cross-lingual communication. Drawing inspiration from Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and the legendary babel fish, I envisioned a solution that could effortlessly decipher any language. I had taken for granted that real-world technological advancements would have already achieved such a feat.

While current Artificial Intelligence (AI) language interpretation technology is undoubtedly impressive, it's not without limitations. Machine translation is easily accessible and widely used but studies have shown it is often unreliable in the context of healthcare where accurate and clear communication can be a matter of life and death. With emerging technologies in the field rapidly advancing, I'm optimistic about future potential and will be following developments closely. One noteworthy discovery is CardMedic’s innovative digital application designed to facilitate conversations between staff and patients when communication barriers arise. Their offering includes digital flashcards and spoken recordings covering common medical topics written by clinical experts. This promising tool is one that I will be exploring further.

It's not just about finding the perfect technological solution, enhancing patient care remains at the forefront of my efforts. Patients often remember a kind smile, or a reassuring touch more than the words spoken. We mustn't forget that as healthcare professionals, the most valuable communication tool at our disposal is human connection – us.


Lorna Currey

Emergency Department Staff Nurse and Digital Champion

Northampton General Hospital

Lorna is an Emergency Department Staff Nurse and Digital Champion at Northampton General Hospital. She has a specialist interest in digital healthcare and is enrolled in Cohort 4 of the Topol Digital Fellowship.

Page last reviewed: 21 September 2023
Next review due: 24 September 2024