New scheme brings voices of loved ones to critically ill patients

Critically ill hospital patients will be able to hear messages from their loved ones this Christmas, thanks to a new service developed during the pandemic.

WithYou supports isolated patients in hospitals and care homes by bringing them music and voice messages from their friends and family.

Created by Bristol-based arts organisation, Trigger in response to the first lockdown. WithYou is a free digital service which makes it easy to record and share voice messages and create playlists from anywhere in the world. It allows family and friends to connect with patients when they are isolated and vulnerable. The messages and playlists are put onto one audio album which can be accessed from an iPad or other device. A healthcare worker can press the button, and then leave the messages and music playing for the patient.

Angie Bual is the Creative Director of WithYou and Artist-Director of Trigger. She said:
“I came up with the idea after old friend of mine was on ICU with covid. He was mechanically ventilated and unable to have visitors. His friends and family were trying to pull together voice messages from his social network and put them onto one mp3 file to send to the hospital. They found the whole procedure very challenging, and it made me realise that there are so many people who are in hospital or in care homes, unable to use devices due to their condition, and all you want at a time like that is to be able to send them a message and make sure they have company. If you’re having a very difficult time in hospital, then it makes a real difference to be able to hear your loved ones’ voices. 

“Many patients and their families have already benefited from using WithYou. We want to make the service available to lots more people because we know that we can make a huge difference.”

Creative Health, the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing Inquiry, and other research demonstrates that listening to music is effective in reducing stress for critically ill patients. The response to music can lower cardiac workload and oxygen consumption, resulting in more effective ventilation for patients on a ventilator. Music can also improve sleep quality and reduce pain meaning that a lower dose of sedative is needed, so that patients can come off a ventilator more quickly, leading to a speedier recovery.

WithYou has also been well-received by healthcare staff who feel that it enables them to bring additional emotional support for patients during difficult times.

The scheme is currently being used at hospitals in Oxford, Yorkshire and London. It is also proving successful in Abbeyfield Care Homes, Warwickshire, where residents are often unable to use devices to receive messages and listen to music. With new funding from Innovate UK, Trigger plan to develop WithYou and make the scheme available to more hospitals and care homes.

Caroline Heason, Head of Patient Experience at Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust said:
“Christmas is a particularly difficult time for patients who are separated from their families. When you’re alone in hospital and very poorly, being able to hear messages from loved ones is very important.
“WithYou can help families keep in touch. No matter where you are in the world, for that patient, it’s as though they’ve got you next to them. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Trigger will be developing WithYou and plan to offer the service to more hospitals in Spring 2022.

Published research and reports
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report, Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing 

Music therapy, a review of the potential therapeutic benefits for the critically ill 
Mofredj A, Alaya S, Tassaioust K, Bahloul H, Mrabet A. Music therapy, a review of the potential therapeutic benefits for the critically ill. Journal of Critical Care. 2016 Oct;35:195-199. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2016.05.021. PMID: 27481759.

Music interventions for mechanically ventilated patients
Bradt J, Dileo C. Music interventions for mechanically ventilated patients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;2014(12):CD006902. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006902.pub3. Epub 2014 Dec 9. PMID: 25490233; PMCID: PMC6517146.

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