At Illinois State University, two separate departments are collaborating to design and investigate virtual reality (VR) environments for use in speech-language pathology rehabilitation.
In 2018, Dr. Isaac Chang, who specializes in VR, engineering design, and robotics, and Dr. Jennine Harvey-Northrop, a speech therapist specializing in cognition and aging, to discuss VR applications for therapy. Chang and Harvey-Northrop planned to create a space that would help patients transition from the clinic to the real world, hopefully allowing patients to generalize their skills.
During their preliminary discussions and research, Harvey-Northrop and Chang came to the conclusion that to create this complex environment, they needed to collaborate with multiple other specialties. dr. Megan E. Cuellar, a speech-language pathologist, and Nanci Solomon, a tech specialist, were asked to join the team to provide additional perspectives. Both work at San Jose State University in California, which has an extensive IT department and a keen interest in VR. Harvey-Northrop and Cuellar together are the communication sciences and disorders leaders for protocol administration design, implementation, and modification through the experimental experimental phases of the study.
Chang and Solomon manage the design, coding and refinement of the VR environment. The use of two mirrored research teams at both universities gives the primary researchers a unique opportunity to make use of the best resources that both universities have to offer. The collaboration between the two disparate fields has successfully delivered a plan to treat patients in a new way. This may affect the treatment of patients in the field of speech therapy.
In all allied health professions, interprofessional practice and training is highly valued. Collaboration within healthcare provides a team-oriented perspective and provides patients with the highest possible quality of care. It also reduces errors and yields faster results. It is not only beneficial for the patients, but also for the caregivers. Working with different fields to achieve the same goal can reduce the workload for those involved. It also provides opportunities for new and innovative ideas that may not have been thought of originally. Working as a team provides the opportunity for different individuals with different specialties to achieve a common goal. Interprofessional practice across different fields is becoming more common due to its tremendous benefits.
Pilot study details: The goal is to create a variety of VR environments for cognitive and language interventions. Participants are between 18-30 and 55-90 years of age with normal cognitive aging and those 18 years of age and older with aphasia, traumatic brain injury and mild cognitive impairment. The results will assess communication, cognitive performance, language performance and a generalization of skills. The wide variety of participating populations gives the researchers the best idea of who will benefit most from the study. Both universities will implement the same protocol in their respective city. The pilot study is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2022.