Hospital Care

How a piece of plastic has improved ICU care


When we think about the basic needs for human survival, food, water and shelter are likely to be the first three things that come to mind. We don’t often think about 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. Unfortunately and inability to talk is a common issue that occurs in Intensive Care Units (ICU) throughout the world - patients that have needed 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, she found one thing glaringly obvious: in some cases, tracheostomy patients were obviously highly frustrated at their inability to speak and the subsequent limitations on communication. Enter the speaking valve.

This small, yet important, piece of plastic is used alongside the tracheostomy. Its placement redirects exhaled air back to the vocal cords and returns the patients ability to talk – giving the patient back an important form of expression and communication. Throughout the study, Anna-Liisa noticed an increase in the overall mood of her ICU tracheostomy patients who were fitted with speaking valves. It’s an inexpensive piece of equipment that has an extremely valuable outcome for patients, their families and their healthcare team.

As another part of her research Anna-Liisa was also curious about the impact of speaking valves on patient’s lung function. During her study it was found that not only was the speaking valve increasing the mental health of patients it was also helping 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’s an amazing result to help patients worldwide who are already going through a particularly challenging period.


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