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A new approach to supporting frail patients in hospital

Thursday, 22 October 2020

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A new research project combining hi-tech solutions and the help of volunteer is aiming to help older patients dealing with pain and frailty in Australian hospitals.

ECU researchers will lead the innovative research project which will investigate how a nurse-led volunteer program and a smartphone app for assessing pain can improve outcomes for frail patients.

Dr Rosemary Saunders from ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery will lead the project which has received a $734,000 from Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation.

Dr Saunders said the project was incredibly important given the ageing population in Australia and around the world as well as the strong association between age and frailty.

“In this study we’re first investigating the prevalence of frailty and pain across the hospital and then trialing interventions to address the magnitude of the problem.”

Dr Saunders said the study would determine the effectiveness of using nurse led volunteer support interventions and a technology driven pain assessment with standard care on changes in frailty and specific clinical outcomes for a group of frail patients at Hollywood Private Hospital.

“The nurse led volunteer support will provide a detailed individual volunteer care plan based on clinical assessment that will drive the volunteer interventions such as assisting someone with their meals or helping them to go for a walk to improve their mobility,” she said.

“Other studies have found patients eat more or increase their weight when required, just by having a volunteer engaged in specific activities at meal times.”

The study will also use new technology called PainChek®, an observational pain assessment system that includes a point-of care app which utilises artificial intelligence (facial recognition and analysis) in combination with smart automation, to provide a valid, reliable and accurate means of assessing pain in people who cannot verbalise their pain.

PainChek’s Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Jeff Hughes, said the study provides a great opportunity to evaluate the impact of technology enabled pain assessment like PainChek on frailty.

“Acknowledging that frailty is often the result of multiple contributors, it is hoped the use of PainChek will facilitate better pain control, hence mitigating its contribution to frailty,” he said.

ECU School of Nursing and Midwifery Associate Dean of Research Professor Lisa Whitehead, said the project reflects the strength and value of the partnership between Hollywood Private Hospital and ECU and is a valuable example of how working together to identify key clinical areas of need can lead to the development and funding of significant studies such as this one with major potential to improve the quality of care for a vulnerable population.

Director of Clinical Services at Hollywood Private Hospital, Karen Gullick, said it was another example of Ramsay’s commitment to research to help improve patient outcomes.

“As we see more elderly people coming through it’s really important that we understand the impact of frailty on the patient and how we can translate that into providing the best care in our hospitals,” Ms Gullick said.

The research team also includes Professor Bev O’Connell, Dr Olivia Gallagher, Dr Beverley Ewens, Dr Kate Crookes, Dr Karla Seaman and Renee Graham from ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery as well as researchers from the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, University of Queensland and the University of Notre Dame.

Work on the two-year study is underway and findings could be used to guide the implementation of nurse led volunteer programs and pain assessment interventions across other hospitals around Australia and the world.

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