September 28, 2023
Guest Cara Donohue appears in a circle with a background that includes yellow and blue lights

In this episode, as part of our continuing series of conversations about the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) on audiology and speech-language pathology, we look at what AI might mean for people with swallowing disorders.

Vanderbilt University’s Cara Donohue shares her experience with this burgeoning technology and examines its implications and practical applications. She discusses her work in the University of Pittsburgh’s Computational Deglutition Lab, led by SLP James Coyle, researching use of a sensor—high-resolution cervical auscultation (HRCA), through signal-processing and machine-learning techniques—to screen, assess, and treat swallowing disorders. She explains how AI’s performance compares to that of human clinicians as a part of this task.

“We've been able to find that many of these machine-learning algorithms perform with a very similar level of accuracy to human judges, which is quite exciting,” Donohue says.

In the lab, Donohue collaborated regularly with an interprofessional team, including engineers, who helped with elements of study design, analysis, and interpreting findings from the data.

“I think that engineers are absolutely essential to moving the field forward,” Donohue says. “Like many areas of clinical research work, it's key to have a multidisciplinary team that's made up of individuals who have different areas of expertise.”

Donohue also addresses the future role AI may play in treating swallowing disorders, such as providing real-time biofeedback in treatment or creating new opportunities around telepractice.

Donohue says she sees AI as just another tool for clinicians to use, and she highlights the value and role of the clinician, focusing on the human side of treating a patient with dysphagia. 

“It's not just simply treating a disorder, but it is treating the patient holistically and figuring out what the things are that are most important to them and how we can best work together to reach their goals.”


Learn More:


Donohue will present at the 2023 “Meet the Masters” program in Boston, one day before Convention. The “Meet the Masters” annual conference for SLPs focuses on swallowing and swallowing disorders, and this year’s presentation centers on AI.

Donohue also has multiple presentations at the 2023 ASHA Convention.

Read the transcript for this episode. 

Meet our guest:
  • Cara Donohue, PhD, CCC-SLP, assistant professor, Vanderbilt University; director, medical speech-language pathology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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