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UMMS student strives to improve communication for those in need

June 21, 2016

MD/PhD student Miriam Madsen strives to improve communication for those in need


  • Medical School
Miriam Madsen wants to give a voice to those who cannot speak

The fourth-year MD/PhD student at UMass Medical School is pursuing an interdisciplinary PhD by developing technologies that improve quality of life and bolster independence for people with temporary or chronic physical and neurodevelopmental disabilities. For example, she is creating a tool that will allow ICU patients to communicate with their care providers.

“A major goal for the PhD project is to raise awareness for the need for ICU patients to have better tools for communication,” said Madsen, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in computer science. “There are millions of ICU visits in this country each year. The need for these patients to communicate is real and extremely stressful. Without adequate communication tools, it impedes medical care.”

Madsen is building an easily manipulated, hand-held device that can be synced with an iPad or Android tablet to allow an ICU patient to communicate. A team of advisors is overseeing the project, including Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research, chair and professor of neurology; J. Matthias Walz, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology; and Leigh R. Hochberg, MD, PhD, professor at Brown University and a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In addition, Madsen hopes to raise awareness of the need to design communication technology for people with disabilities. She cited recent advances in communication technology associated with autism and ALS, but said that outside of those two areas of focus there are limited options for people with a wide range of disabilities.

“They really want to communicate and new technology will help others be able to care for them effectively,” Madsen said.