FAST Blog

The ORCA (Observer-Reported Communication Ability) outcome measure

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In 2018, FAST funded Dr. Bryce Reeve of Duke University to create a novel communication measurement tool as an outcome measure assessment of caregiver observations of a child’s ability for expressive communication in nonverbal patients with complex communication needs like Angelman syndrome (AS).  We are happy to announce that not only was Dr. Reeve successful in creating such a tool, but that it is being used by others in the Angelman space. This successful partnership and strong engagement with the Angelman community allowed the development of the Observer-Reported Communication Ability (ORCA) measure to be fast-tracked (<1.5 years from conception to having a measure). 

In a FAST survey among its Facebook members, 332 parents/caregivers indicated one of the most important improvements they wanted to see in their child with AS was changes in their communication. In response, FAST made improvements in communication ability one of the key markers for effectiveness of therapies to be tested in clinical trials. However, there lacked good quality parent/caregiver-reported measures of communication ability that would provide a reliable and valid assessment for individuals with AS. Recognizing this limitation, the FAST organization partnered with the Center for Health Measurement (CHM) at Duke University School of Medicine to design and evaluate a measure with the goal to use the measure in clinical trials to detect change in communication ability over time.

As a result, CHM, in collaboration with FAST, designed the Observer-Reported Communication Ability measure with direct feedback and involvement from the AS community. FAST funded the creation of the ORCA as part of our Angelman Biomarker and Outcome Measure Initiative (ABOM) efforts.  The purpose of the ABOM initiative is to create and/or identify biomarkers and outcome measures to be used in a pre-competitive spirit, non-proprietary manner across all parties’ interest in developing therapeutics for Angelman syndrome.  One of FAST’s goals in funding Dr. Reeve’s grant was to provide this valuable tool for researchers within the Angelman space, as well as for other disorders.

The ORCA measure includes 72 questions that capture various types of expressive, receptive, and pragmatic forms of communication and is able to place each individual with AS along a continuum of communication ability that allows for examination of their changes over time. The ORCA does not rely on speech, but allows gestures, vocalizations, and use of aids to capture communication ability. It takes about 15-20 minutes for a parent/caregiver to complete the measure independently without the help of a clinician or speech language pathologist.

The ORCA measure was designed following best practice recommendations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other organizations. First, the CHM team conducted in-depth interviews with both caregivers of individuals with AS and communication experts with experience working with individuals with AS to identify relevant types of communication behaviors. From these interviews, the CHM team learned of 22 communication concepts that were important to include on the ORCA measure such as seeking attention, requesting “more” of something (e.g., food), making choices, and greeting people. Second, the CHM team conducted additional interviews with caregivers of individuals with AS to make sure the questions included in ORCA were understandable and appropriate. Third, the CHM team collected responses to the ORCA questionnaire from 290 caregivers/parents of individuals with AS. With this data, the CHM was able to find strong evidence for both the reliability and validity of the ORCA measure to capture communication ability. All these steps are currently being written-up by the CHM team and FAST representatives and will be published in the scientific literature and shared with the FDA.

The ORCA measure is now being used in clinical trials and natural history studies for individuals with AS. Additionally, the CHM team is working to translate the English version of the ORCA into other languages so it may be used globally. Also, the ORCA measure may be used in other conditions/disorders that have significant communication deficits. 

 

Dr. Reeve is the Director for the Center for Health Measurement, as well as a Professor of Population Health Sciences and Pediatrics within the Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Reeve is an internationally recognized psychometrician.  Dr. Reeve’s areas of expertise include developing patient-reported questionnaires using qualitative and quantitative methodologies and the integration of patient-reported data in research and healthcare delivery to inform decision-making. 

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