South Miami Hospital offers new menus for visually impaired

The new menus not only help patients, but also help the staff become more aware of patient needs and capabilities.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

Mallory Szczepanski, Digital Production Editor

Foodservice operations in hospitals are always looking for ways to increase patient satisfaction. One Miami hospital is taking a creative approach by tweaking its menu—by adding sound.

In 2011, South Miami Hospital's foodservice department was approached by Kathy Sparger, vice president of nursing, about finding a way to help visually impaired patients order meals. The solution was teaming up with Taylannas, an engineering and design company that specializes in enhanced VOICE applications, such as Menus That Talk and Tours That Talk.

Taylannas’ CEO Susan Perry designed the concept for Menus That Talk about seven years ago when she saw her niece struggle with reading menus due to macular degeneration. Menus That Talk is a tablet that features lighted buttons that highlight menu items. When a button is pushed, customers hear the menu item name and details, along with prices and sides. Menus That Talk is the only talking menu in the world, according to Taylannas' Director of Operations Olivia Gomez. From the Menus That Talk program, Taylannas created personalized menus for South Miami's visually impaired patients.

“Only 5% to 6% of the visually impaired community read brail,” Gomez says. “We developed a unit that doesn’t have brail but does have bumps over the buttons. It’s a tablet screen with a special casing designed by our CEO.”

The Menus That Talk device has audio in English, Spanish and French. The device allows patients to select their own menu by daypart, review menu items and send their next-day order in to the foodservice staff. The hospital currently has 12 handheld device units.

The device took about a year to build with customized backend software that allows hospital staff to update the menu on their own, meaning any menu changes are automatically updated in the Menus That Talk program. The hospital staff was trained to use the device and they are able to see the patients’ names, date of birth, menu selections, dietary needs and inventory through a customized portal.

On Nov. 1, the hospital rolled out the handheld audio menu as well as two other options to assist visually impaired patients. “There are over 67,000 visually impaired [citizens] in Miami and we hope to attract them to our hospital,” says Thomas Ferner, operations manager at South Miami Hospital. “I believe we are the first in the country to offer this to patients. The goal [of offering this device] is to give patients more autonomy, allowing them to do something themselves.”

The other two menu options are a brail menu and a larger print menu, currently available in English and Spanish, to help assist various types of visually impaired patients.

One of the challenges the department faces with the program is that visually impaired patients are often not identified as such. “In the past, many patients would be admitted and we wouldn’t know that they were blind or visually impaired,” Ferner says. “Many [visually impaired people] don’t consider themselves disabled, so they won’t say anything because there is nothing you can do for them.”

South Miami, with the guidance of Eric Arbogast, operations director of nutrition services, is hoping to change that attitude by implementing this program. “Patients are now saying ‘Wow, we are happy to know you care about the visually impaired,’” Ferner says. “We are always looking for ways to reach different demographics in our hospital.”

The hospital recently started asking patients if they have any visual impairments during rounds. As a long-term goal, the hospital staff is also considering asking about visual impairments during admissions to help the staff be more aware of patient needs right from admission.

“I heard there was a 103-year-old patient who was interested in using the Menus That Talk device in the hospital and he was able to make his first choice ever about food on his own [by ordering with the device],” Gomez says.

In addition to the new menus, the hospital also offers color contrast trays with meal orders to better assist the patients and enhance their dining experience. The trays help the patient see the outline and location of items, such as silverware, drinking cups and plates. Each tray is prepared with a white tray, a green placemat, a yellow plate, a red napkin and a blue cup. Tray items are also always placed in the same order on the tray by using a clock method, a method many visually impaired people are trained to use. 

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