Health Information Management
FORMULA FOR EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s especially true when Health Information Management (HIM) Associate Professor Leming Zhou collaborates with Communication Science and Disorders Associate Professor Katya Hill. Together, they developed a new mobile app that serves as a virtual therapist and speech assistant for individuals with communication disorders. “In the past, patients with communication disorders used dedicated Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices for communication and language exercises, but they had a number of limitations,” says Zhou. “For example, patients’ language performance data was not readily available to clinicians. To access and analyze the data, a patient needed to take the dedicated AAC device to the clinic. A clinician had to download the data and separate the patient’s speech from other data, and then complete a very time-consuming analysis to determine if the patient’s therapy needed to be adjusted. “After a comprehensive literature review and feedback from both patients and clinicians, it became clear that the old technology was not an effective way to improve communications outcomes,” Zhou continues. The new mobile AAC app, labeled EuTalk, uses the sophisticated mobile technology to realize features found in dedicated AAC devices. It captures high-quality and clinically relevant patient data in real time and separates it from other data, including sentences created by other people. Embedded in the app are training materials such as games and practice lessons so that individuals with communication disorders can improve their communication skills at home. The research-based, high-frequency or core vocabulary in the app includes words used in daily conversations across different circumstances. Patients can enter other words through an alphabet page. They can also customize their experience by changing settings or adjusting training materials to meet their specific needs.
FACETS FALL/WINTER 2018
Erh-Hsuan Wang (PhD ’16) helped to design and develop the platform, and to evaluate the feasibility and usability of the system as part of her doctoral dissertation. And Szu-Han Kay Chen (PhD ’17), in her doctoral dissertation, evaluated the effectiveness of treatment with patients with aphasia using EuTalk. Wang says with the advances of today’s technology, it is relatively easy to collect all kinds of data, but that is not enough. “It becomes really important to be able to identify clinically relevant data, and to convert these data into meaningful and useful information for the target users.” EuTalk immediately analyzes the patient-generated data and produces a performance report so the user can easily see his or her progress in the training lessons over a period of time. Clinicians have access to patients’ language performance reports via a secure web portal. They can see how long their patient spent on the training lesson, whether or not they are improving, and how treatment therapy should be adjusted, even before the patients show up in the clinic. “All of these features make it possible for people with aphasia, cerebral palsy or other speech-language disorders to achieve their full potential in language communication,” says Zhou. Hill, who has spent nearly three decades working with individuals with communication disorders, says the mobile app is raising the standard of care. “Clinicians need precise measurements to determine the effectiveness of treatment, but to date standardized methods of calculation have not been implemented for real-time feedback,” she explains. “For example, clinicians may not use precision calculations to report the communication rate of patients,” she continues. “The new mobile app has the ability to standardize the measurement of speech and language using a language activity monitor (LAM) data logging feature that we use in our lab at Pitt. Standardization improves measuring the effectiveness of treatment and being able to compare reliable and valid results across published studies.” EuTalk is an example of how collaboration leads to evidencebased practices in both disciplines.