Healing with words: how the speaking valve has changed patient care

When we think about the basic needs it takes for a person to survive, food, water and shelter are the first three things that come to mind. We don’t often dwell on how important communicating is to our mental health and well-being; until we no longer have the ability to do so.

Research has actually shown that “inability to talk is... associated with torture, leading to depression, social withdrawal, lack of motivation to participate in care” and more. This is a common issue that occurs in Intensive Care Units (ICU) all over the world - patients that need a tracheostomy can’t speak, as oxygen isn’t making its way to the vocal cords.

When Anna-Liisa Sutt first started in the ICU at The Prince Charles Hospital, one thing was glaringly obvious: the tracheostomy patients were in some cases obviously frustrated at not being able to speak. Enter the speaking valve.

This small piece of plastic is used alongside the tracheostomy, redirecting exhaled air to the vocal cords and giving patients the ability to talk. It’s an inexpensive piece of equipment that has an extremely valuable outcome for patients, their families and their healthcare team.

Throughout the study, Anna-Liisa noticed an increase in the mood of her ICU tracheostomy patients that were fitted with speaking valves. As part of her research she was also curious about the impact of speaking valves on patient lung function, and found that not only was the speaking valve increasing the mental health of patients, but helped to positively exercise the lungs!  

Thanks to the work Anna-Liisa has done into this area of research, every tracheostomy patient at The Prince Charles Hospital is considered for a speaking valve. Her study has also had such a positive response nationally and internationally, that Australia’s main manufacturer of the valves has had some trouble keeping up with the demand!

It all started with a small New Investigator grant; to support another young researcher like Anna-Liisa, check out our current projects here. You can also read more about the life-changing research happening at The Common Good.

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Patient Care

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