Five minutes with Rachael Grimaldi, Founder of CardMedic

CardMedic must go down as one of the fastest digital start-ups of all time: it went from concept to launch in just 72 hours and this month has signed its first agreement with Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance Trust.

On maternity leave and visiting family in the US, Rachael got caught the other side of the Atlantic when everything shut down in March 2020. While abroad, she read an article about a COVID-19 patient’s terrifying hospital experience when they couldn’t understand the healthcare workers through their personal protective equipment or PPE. It got her thinking….. As an anaesthetist in the NHS, she was well aware of similar situations in hospitals where she’s worked – patients who were frightened and upset as they couldn’t communicate with hospital staff because of hearing, sight or language difficulties. In most circumstances she says there is little time to call an interpreter and they use an ad hoc mixture of family members and staff to act as translators and interpreters or, if desperate, Google translate. Unable to be with patients during the pandemic, Rachael desperately wanted to do something to help…..

CardMedic is one of those simple but brilliant ideas: a free web and mobile app for healthcare staff to help breakdown communication barriers with patients at point of care – whether it is visual, hearing or cognitive impairment, a language barrier, or PPE. CardMedic replicates conversations around common healthcare topics with simple questions and explanations to guide clinical interaction. “The app is simple and easy to use”, says Rachael, “and has been developed by clinical experts across the UK including speech and language therapists, learning disability nurses, midwives, critical care nurses, radiographers, and doctors to make sure that the content is spot on.”

Rachael promoted the CardMedic app on Twitter and within the first three weeks had 8000 users in 50 countries. The feedback they got was incredible and they now have 50,000 users in 120 countries and over 16,000 app downloads in under a year.

It works like this. There is an A to Z list of healthcare topics that replicate common conversations between staff and patients by using a series of simple online “flashcards” with “yes” or “no” answers. The cards cover topics from breathing and COVID19 symptoms to end of life care and having an emergency Caesarian section. You simply select a topic and chose what language you want to use. The content can be changed to an easy read mode with pictures and sign language videos for the hard of hearing. At the moment they have 11 language options but are aiming for 30. “If the conversations go off-piste”, says Rachael, “there’s an integrated translation tool. You can instantly switch the content to sign language with subtitles for deaf users too and it has an additional read aloud option for those with visual impairment or literacy issues.” The app works on phones, tablets and laptops, making it a flexi bedside tool. “The aim”, says Rachael, “is to make communication in healthcare more accessible to ease patients fears, improve patient safety, quality of care, and reduce health inequalities across the globe.”

CardMedic is supported by NICE, the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust. “We have also received two Innovate UK grants,” says Rachael, “ including the incredibly competitive COVID-19 business-led de-minimis grant – and further angel investment. And we will be looking to fundraise a seed round later in the year.”

The challenge now is how to monetise the idea. There is obviously a need and Rachael has calculated that the NHS has an approximately £5 billion gap in service provision for interpreters and signers, which falls a long way short of the last estimated spend of £23m. CardMedic has developed a subscription model where there’s a basic free service or “CardMedic Lite” for emergency situations, a “CardMedic Health” where they charge an annual fee for healthcare settings – NHS Trusts, hospitals, GP surgeries pharmacies, dentists, care homes and more – and then a “CardMedic Health+” version which has customisable content, integration with health records and advanced reporting. The service remains free for staff, public and patients, with the licence paid for at the healthcare level.

The associated CardMedic Foundation will ensure the app is free for those in refugee camps and disaster zones, as well as providing grants for healthcare entrepreneurs working in these situations, or those running training programs to improve communication, patient safety and human factors.

Rachael and the team are really proud to sign an agreement this month to work with their first pre-hospital beacon site, Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance Trust.

Rachael is a modern-day superwoman. She works as an anaesthetist, has three children under the age of five, and is CEO of a startup. She says it is all possible because of her amazing team. Her husband, Tim Grimaldi, for starters who is COO, his brother, Alex Grimaldi who is CFO, Dave Nurse, CTO, and Chairman, Jim Gabriel. They also have a dynamic group of about 20 translators, speech and language therapists and interpreters who are working voluntarily to get the idea off the ground.

The company ‘graduated’ from digital transformation catalyst, The Hill, and now has a virtual office in the Oxford Centre for Innovation but hopes to set up office soon. We wish CardMedic the very best of luck. What a great enterprise to have under our roof!

If you want to find out more about CardMedic, see here. Follow the links to find out more about the Oxford Centre for Innovation and its sister site the Wood Centre for Innovation.