Evaluation of an expert system for the generation of speech and language therapy plans

Vladimir Robles-Bykbaev, Martín López-Nores, Jorge García-Duque, José J. Pazos-Arias, Daysi Arévalo-Lucero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) deal with a wide spectrum of disorders, arising from many different conditions, that affect voice, speech, language, and swallowing capabilities in different ways. Therefore, the outcomes of Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) are highly dependent on the accurate, consistent, and complete design of personalized therapy plans. However, SLPs often have very limited time to work with their patients and to browse the large (and growing) catalogue of activities and specific exercises that can be put into therapy plans. As a consequence, many plans are suboptimal and fail to address the specific needs of each patient. Objective: We aimed to evaluate an expert system that automatically generates plans for speech and language therapy, containing semiannual activities in the five areas of hearing, oral structure and function, linguistic formulation, expressive language and articulation, and receptive language. The goal was to assess whether the expert system speeds up the SLPs' work and leads to more accurate, consistent, and complete therapy plans for their patients. Methods: We examined the evaluation results of the SPELTA expert system in supporting the decision making of 4 SLPs treating children in three special education institutions in Ecuador. The expert system was first trained with data from 117 cases, including medical data; diagnosis for voice, speech, language and swallowing capabilities; and therapy plans created manually by the SLPs. It was then used to automatically generate new therapy plans for 13 new patients. The SLPs were finally asked to evaluate the accuracy, consistency, and completeness of those plans. A four-fold cross-validation experiment was also run on the original corpus of 117 cases in order to assess the significance of the results. Results: The evaluation showed that 87% of the outputs provided by the SPELTA expert system were considered valid therapy plans for the different areas. The SLPs rated the overall accuracy, consistency, and completeness of the proposed activities with 4.65, 4.6, and 4.6 points (to a maximum of 5), respectively. The ratings for the subplans generated for the areas of hearing, oral structure and function, and linguistic formulation were nearly perfect, whereas the subplans for expressive language and articulation and for receptive language failed to deal properly with some of the subject cases. Overall, the SLPs indicated that over 90% of the subplans generated automatically were "better than" or "as good as" what the SLPs would have created manually if given the average time they can devote to the task. The cross-validation experiment yielded very similar results. Conclusions: The results show that the SPELTA expert system provides valuable input for SLPs to design proper therapy plans for their patients, in a shorter time and considering a larger set of activities than proceeding manually. The algorithms worked well even in the presence of a sparse corpus, and the evidence suggests that the system will become more reliable as it is trained with more subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23
JournalJMIR Medical Informatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors from Universidad Politécnica Salesiana have been supported by the “Sistemas Inteligentes de Soporte a la Educación” research project (CIDII-010213). We would like to thank Zaituna Bykbaeva, Gladys Ochoa, and all the collaborating people from Instituto de Parálisis Cerebral del Azuay, Fundación “General Dávalos,” and CEDEI School.

Funding Information:
The authors from the University of Vigo were supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Galician Regional Government under agreement for funding the Atlantic Research Center for Information and Communication Technologies (AtlantTIC), as well as by the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (Gobierno de España) research project TIN2013-42774-R (partly financed with FEDER [Spanish Federation of RD] funds).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 JMIR Publications Inc. All Rights Reserved.


  • Decision support systems, clinical
  • Expert systems
  • Rehabilitation of speech and language disorders
  • Speech-language pathology


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluation of an expert system for the generation of speech and language therapy plans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this