What is a Medical Speech-Language Pathologist?

According to the Mayo Clinic, speech-language pathologists in a medical setting assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent oral motor, swallowing, cognitive-linguistic, speech, and language disorders. Speech pathologists work with individuals whose oral motor, swallowing, cognitive-linguistic, speech, or language skills have been affected by a neurological event/disease, head/neck cancer, or possibly debilitation related to an underlying medical disease process. This includes individuals:

  • With speech articulation and fluency difficulty such as dysarthria
  • With voice quality problems, such as inappropriate pitch or harsh voice possibly related to vocal abuse or cancer
  • With cognitive-communicative impairments, including underlying attention, memory, abstract reasoning, or problem-solving deficits possibly related to a stroke, brain injury, or underlying medical disease process
  • With aphasia (a language disorder) or apraxia (a motor planning disorder)
  • Who have oropharyngeal weakness that places them at risk for “aspiration” or food/liquid entering the airway when swallowing that can lead to respiratory complications

Oral motor, swallowing, cognitive-linguistic, speech, and language disorders can result from a variety of neurological events, including brain injury, stroke, seizure, progressive disease, cancer, and/or debilitation related to other medical diseases. Speech-Language pathologists use physical examination, instrumental technology, and standardized cognitive-linguistic and language tests to diagnose and guide treatment.

Speech-language pathologists develop an individualized plan of care, tailored to each patient’s needs. Speech-language pathologists may recommend alternate nutrition based upon aspiration risk when swallowing, recommend diet level modification to reduce aspiration risk when swallowing, design an individualized augmentative communication system or prescribe a speech generating device for individuals with nonfunctional speech. They provide education to patients, their family members and caregivers regarding impairments, disease processes, and compensatory strategies. They develop daily home programs unique to each individual’s strengths and weakness that facilitate maintenance of swallowing, cognitive-linguistic, speech, or language skills at an optimal level. In addition to clinical practice, medical speech pathologists also participate in research.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association (ASHA) details the Speech-Language-Pathology Medical Review Guidelines here:

ASHA SLP Medical Review Guidelines

We will continue to discuss the definition and practice of a medical speech-language pathologist throughout this blog.


About Tampa Bay Medical Speech Pathology Association

MESPA is a local speech pathology organization in Tampa, Florida that started in 2000 to draw speech pathologists together to meet for continuing education. Currently, MESPA meets at Tampa General Hospital on a quarterly basis on the second Sunday evening of the month in January, April, July, and October from 6:00-8:00 pm.
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