Smart PHONeNATION: How My Device Revolutionized My Voice Rehabilitation Practice

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My smartphone has literally revolutionized the way I give sessions. And I don’t mean literally Rachel Zoe style. I use my phone practically every session! Now I hear those of you who are seasoned professionals. You are unfamiliar, maybe apprehensive about technology like this. “It’s too difficult,” you say, “I’m not generation text message-thumb.” I hope this piece encourages you to give it a try.

Age knows no bounds when you apply technology, because most everyone can benefit from these innovations. I’ll echo a recent ASHA post on SLP hats and inquire the same about the many jobs of your smartphone:

  • Stop-watch. I have one less item to worry about if I use my phone for timing maximum vowel prolongations, S/Z ratios and structured session tasks. Your phone timer also tracks session length. We all have those clients who love (I mean REALLY love) to talk, which is good when you advance to structured conversational tasks, but sometimes they carry on too long. Use your phone timer if you feel it’s appropriate for signaling a wrap-up.
  • Recording device. I record my acoustic measures when I analyze cepstral peak prominence and fundamental frequency, but during therapy—where the hard work begins—I employ my voice memo app. I also teach patients how to use their own voice memo programs, which is important for home practice. Follow-through is such a different game now, because most patients have recording options on their phones. You can record session highlights for easy patient access on his or her own device, versus cassette-taping the session.
  • Biofeedback. It’s great if you have a state-of-the-art Computerized Speech Lab setup. If you don’t, your smartphone has an app for that. (Ha! You were waiting for that phrase, weren’t you?) Bla | Bla | Bla works as a visual sound meter. As you get louder, the faces change. It doesn’t replace the software that helps you stay within a target pitch range, but can provide biofeedback for intensity tasks. I use smartphone video recorders to improve self-awareness for laryngeal and upper body tension. Instant review of these videos may help your patient meet goals sooner.
  • Piano. For Joseph Stemple’s Vocal Function Exercises, I use my MiniPiano app for pitch matching on Warm-up and Power. For the small group of clients with NO musical inclination, just do you best to find a mid-range pitch for VFE’s, but for your type-A’s (you know who they are), the option to have perfect pitch right at your fingertips wastes no time.
  • Anatomy. I used to lug around literally (Ha, Rachel again!) thousands of copies of anatomy drawings for patients. The copies usually ended up in the trash. The Dysphagia app has been my most effective tool for explaining the anatomy of a swallow, vocal folds as well as reflux. It has nice color videos demonstrating disordered and normal swallows and dramatically enhances patient education. Plus, the video action makes a more lasting impression.
  • Alarm. Ever get a patient who doesn’t practice? (You can always tell.) With a smartphone, you can name each alarm and set them to go off at certain times. The patient can deliberately practice diaphragmatic breathing and single syllable target words every hour on the hour! We’re going for making new muscle memory here, so it’s key to entice the patient to practice mindfully and not just be on autopilot. It’s beneficial for whole body exercise to take place for short periods throughout the day, so why not phonation training? And it keeps patients accountable.

Embracing the technology out there doesn’t mean you need to de-humanize sessions. The relationships you build with your clients are special. Their progress depends on how comfortable they feel in the room. Don’t spend the entire session glued to your phone, but strive to find a good balance where you use it when you think it will make a difference.

We SLP’s and AuD’s are in the people business and let’s not forget we’re professional voice users ourselves. Voice therapy techniques used to be difficult to maintain out of the treatment room. Now our clients have a fighting chance to recreate that buzzy forward-focused sound every time they glance at their smartphone between Facebook updates and Yahoo news articles.

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She belongs to ASHA’s Special Interest Group 3-Voice and Voice Disorders. She keeps a blog on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. Follow her on Twitter @atempovoice or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/atempovoicecenter.

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