At Illinois State University, two separate departments are working together to design and examine virtual reality (VR) environments for use in rehabilitation in speech-language pathology.

In 2018, Dr. Isaac Chang who specializes in VR, tech design, and robotics, and Dr. Jennine Harvey-Northrop, a speech-language pathologist who specializes in cognition and aging, began discussing VR applications to therapy. Chang and Harvey-Northrop planned to create a space that would assist patients in their transition from the clinic to the real world, hopefully allowing patients to generalize skills.

Through their preliminary discussions and research, Harvey-Northrop and Chang determined that to create this complex environment, they would need collaboration 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 significant interest in VR. Together, Harvey-Northrop and Cuellar make up the communication sciences and disorders leads for design, implementation, and modification of the protocol administration through the pilot experimental stages of the study.

Chang and Solomon are managing design, coding, and VR environment refinement. Utilizing two mirrored research teams at both universities gives the primary researchers a unique opportunity to make use of the best resources both universities have to offer. Collaboration between the two disparate fields has successfully provided a plan to treat patients in a new way. This has the potential to impact the treatment of patients within the field of speech-language pathology.

Across allied health professions, interprofessional practice and training are highly valued. Collaboration within health care gives a team-based perspective and provides patients the highest quality of care possible. It also reduces errors and provides faster results. It is not only beneficial for the patients but the health care providers as well. Working with different fields to achieve the same goal may reduce the workload on those involved. It also gives 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 distinct specialties to achieve a common goal. Interprofessional practice within different fields is becoming increasingly more common due to the vast benefits.

Pilot Study Details: The goal is to create a variety of VR environments for cognitive and language interventions. Participants will include ages 18-30 and 55-90 years with normal cognitive aging and individuals 18 years and older with aphasia, traumatic brain injury, and mild cognitive impairments. Results will assess communication, cognitive, language performance, and a generalization of skills. The wide variety of populations participating will give the researchers the best idea of who benefits most from the study. Both universities will be implementing the same protocol in their respective city. The pilot study is scheduled to begin this upcoming spring 2022.