Understanding a doctor explaining a medical procedure can be difficult for anyone. It becomes even harder for people when communication is impaired.


Pocket Talker technology is now available for patients with hearing impairments at the QEII Health Sciences Centre through a QEII Foundation Comfort & Care Grant. And the timing could not be better, with greater than normal need as COVID-19 pandemic protocols, like mask wearing, affect communication.


Dr. David P. Morris, an otologist (ear surgeon) at the QEII, says this simple yet effective technology means patients can fully understand and consent to procedures and make better-informed decisions as they navigate their healthcare journey — both during and after the pandemic.


“It’s a relatively simple, non-invasive intervention which is proven to be effective. We know it works,” he says.


Funded by generous donors, the QEII Foundation Comfort & Care Grants were established in 2005. These grants support QEII projects that don’t typically receive funding from the health centre’s main budgets and that show a direct benefit to patients and their families.


Dr. Morris says the benefits of Pocket Talker devices are in the simple technology and universal results. The devices have been around for years and consist of a sound amplifier and analog technology, which includes a volume knob that wearers can easily adjust to their comfort level.


“The beauty of this device is in its simplicity and cost. It’s relatively cheap — around $300 to $400 — and is basically one size fits all,” says Dr. Morris. “Those who like it, like it a lot. We’ve even had some patients purchase these for themselves, as they’re much more affordable than a hearing aid.”


More Pocket Talker devices were needed in the Division of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery outpatient clinic, as patients have had to sometimes share devices or the clinic would use them in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech test centre.


Dr. Morris says his QEII colleagues, audiologist Duncan Floyd and otolaryngology division administrator Brenda Oake, discovered and applied for the Comfort & Care Grant, through which four Pocket Talker devices were purchased.


“These devices will be used at the clinic and on our floor at the hospital, for general use or even by post-op patients, who often experience temporary hearing loss,” says Dr. Morris.


Ready access to Pocket Talker devices ensures patients with some limitations to their hearing abilities are able to communicate with doctors, according to Dr. Morris.


“Most of us don’t think twice about the beauty of our ability to hear clearly. When it becomes a challenge, hearing-impaired people spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to understand what people are saying to them,” he says.


“Speech isn’t just tonal sounds, beats or whistles; it is complex and nuanced and it doesn’t take much to lose its meaning. When you lose it, the effort required to concentrate on every word is absolutely exhausting.”


With personal protective barriers and mask-wearing protocols in place since the onset of COVID-19, sound and facial speech cues have been drastically limited, leaving people with hearing impairments at a loss during day-to-day tasks and communication, including at medical appointments.


The use of Pocket Talkers circumvents this, meaning those who use them can not only understand what doctors are speaking with them about, but can practise informed consent with respect to their medical procedures. It also means patients are able to hear and understand instructions for post-procedure care when they go home.


“The difference is being able to be engaged or not at all, so that might translate into someone being able to be fully informed in the consenting process,” says Dr. Morris.


That’s why Dr. Morris and his team are so thankful for the QEII Foundation’s support in granting them this funding. They know it will make a difference for countless patients.


“These devices are a real lifeline. We’re just so grateful for this support and that this grant exists,” he says.