Electrodes measuring nerve activity in the muscles used in swallowing.

The Katz School’s M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology recently teamed up with Hong Kong Polytechnic University to explore how both schools can improve patient care with the use of technology.

In a Zoom course with faculty, students and clinicians, Dr. Marissa Barrera, director of the M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology, demonstrated how to implement biofeedback, such as surface electromyography and ultrasound, for patients who have dysphagia, or swallowing difficulty.

“So much of what we do in speech pathology can’t be easily seen,” she said. “Biofeedback lets us take a glimpse at how the muscles for swallowing are working.”

Surface electromyography is a noninvasive procedure that involves attaching electrodes to the surface of the skin in order to measure electrical activity in the muscles, while ultrasound is an imaging method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of inside the body. Dr. Barrera said these practices are safe, noninvasive and cost effective, and helpful for patients of any age.

“Surface EMG gives us a sneak peek into how muscles and nerves are responding to treatment without having to use invasive technologies,” she said. “With ultrasound, we get to see images illustrating the position of the tongue for speech and swallowing in real-time without having to expose a patient to radiation.”

Dr. Barrera said visual biofeedback doesn’t replace, but complements, the instrumental evaluation of swallowing. She said biofeedback technology should be common practice in speech-language pathology because it provides essential visual information about the articulators, which are the organs of speech that produce sound, or vocal cords in real-time.

“It’s information that would otherwise not be available to the patient or speech-language pathologist without invasive methods,” she said.

Dr. Barrera shares her knowledge of medical speech pathology with her graduate students at Yeshiva University, including the use of biofeedback which is included in the M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology program’s extensive curriculum for dysphagia evaluation and management.

The Katz School of Science and Health is an academic powerhouse in the heart of New York City. It offers master’s programs in five sectors that are redefining the economy: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Biotech and Health, Digital Media, and Fintech. In the lab, classroom and clinic, we lead with kindness, integrity, generosity and a commitment to making the world safer, smarter and healthier.

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