News and Events

Israeli Innovation Gives Injured Soldiers a New Voice

Publication Date: 2/18/2024 10:00 AM

During the current war, some wounded soldiers with significant head injuries have been robbed of their ability to speak.  Now, thanks to innovative, efficient, and cost-effective Israeli technology, these soldiers have a new voice and can communicate with medical staff and loved ones.

Ron communicates with Tell Me.  Photography: Dr. Maya Menahemi-PalkovRon communicates with Tell Me. Photography: Dr. Maya Menahemi-Palkov

“Ron,”* a lieutenant in the IDF serving on Israel’s northern border, suffered severe head and limb injuries and a shattered jaw caused by an anti-tank missile. In critical condition, he was admitted to the Department of Critical Care at Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam) in Haifa, Israel.  After stabilizing his medical condition, Ron remained in bed with his head and limbs bandaged and jaws fixed shut; he was unable to speak or write on an erasable board.

Communication therapists worked with Ron to find a way for him to communicate using his only uninjured finger. However, they quickly understood that the tools at hand were insufficient. Rambam and “Ezer Mizion,” Israel’s largest health support organization reached out to Hilma – Tech for Impact, a non-profit organization known for its success in developing technological solutions for populations with special needs.

Dr. Maya Menahemi-Palkov, director of Speech Therapy Services at Rambam, who worked with Ron, explains, “To our delight, they worked on a solution for Ron. They gave him a special iPad adapted to his needs. With its help, he began communicating with those around him.”

When the war began, Israel’s hospitals and healthcare system prepared to admit, treat, and rehabilitate soldiers with head injuries. Recovering from an injury is difficult enough, but losing the ability to communicate due to bodily damage affecting the ability to speak makes the situation more complex.

The new “Tell Me” app developed by Hilma assists acutely injured patients in communicating with their medical teams and families. Suitable for both Android or iOS devices, Tell Me is a text-to-speech converter with automatic playback and enables patients who have lost their ability to speak through injury to communicate.  Users can type a sentence and then hear it, choose a sentence from a built-in sentence database customized to the patient’s needs, send text to family members or staff, and much more – all via an accessible touchscreen.

Other available apps are more difficult to personalize, but Tell Me allows both patients and their families to give input, assist, design, and add content as needed. Furthermore, communication therapists who are already managing a heavy workload can work more effectively with their patients.

The Tell Me app is also cost-effective. Not only is the app free, but it can be installed on Android devices, which are much cheaper than iOS devices. Making the Tell Me app accessible to everyone dramatically contributes to a patient’s recovery and ability to communicate.

“After identifying multiple needs emerging from hospitalization wards, we formulated several unique systems tailored to assist patients with war injuries, and Tell Me is one of them,” explains Michal Ofir, CEO of Hilma. “Essentially, Tell Me is an accessible keyboard capable of communicating on behalf of the patient; it features word prediction technology, remembers repetitive text, and much more. The patient can communicate quickly and independently and express emotions; using it enhances their sense of control. Realizing that the system could assist those with war injuries, we mobilized a dedicated team of national service personnel at Hilma to tailor the app at this critical time.”

Dr. Maya Menahemi-Palkov.
Photography: Rambam HCC

“The app also works offline and supports Hebrew, Arabic, and English languages. Fonts, text size, and keyboard layout can be defined and tailored for patients with motor and visual difficulties,” explains Yonit Hagoel Karnieli, head of the National SGD center at Ezer Mizion. “Tell Me is one of several apps under development, in part or completely by Hilma and Ezer Mizion, focusing on social-tech solutions for Israel’s citizens.”

Ron was the first patient to benefit from the technology behind the Tell Me app. “When he arrived at Rambam, he couldn’t swallow or make a sound, and his limbs were bandaged,” recounts Dr. Menahemi-Palkov. “We focused on rehabilitating his vocal and swallowing abilities, expanding his ability to communicate with his family and medical team to express his needs and maximize his independence through alternative communication methods. Tell Me lets Ron communicate with his family, the medical team, and caregivers. Over time, he has regained his voice and can now eat and swallow.”

Ofir is pleased to add that Hilma is focused on creating new solutions designed specifically for the needs of this time. They are fast-tracking existing projects to provide technological support for the increasing challenges in healthcare, welfare, and education due to the war, and providing timely assistance to Israel’s population.

* Name changed to protect his identity

Based on an article that first appeared in Hebrew on the Walla lifestyle website

Also featured on the Jerusalem Post news website