Over the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about telemedicine and its potential to transform the healthcare industry. From virtual physician visits to online pharmacies like Capsule, new and accessible technology is helping this healthcare model quickly gain traction amongst providers and patients alike. With the global telemedicine market set to climb 19% annually from $38 billion in 2018 to over $130 billion by 2025, now is the time for therapy practitioners to understand how they fit into this alternative setting of care and how they can still provide the best possible care through telepractice.
As a Speech-Language Pathologist or an Occupational Therapist, how do you stay on the cutting edge of technology and incorporate teletherapy into efficacious practice? Continue reading to learn more about telepractice from two of ES Healthcare’s experts and directors of clinical services, Ashley Paveglio, MS, CCC-SLP, TSSLD and Mindy Booth, OTR/L!
The basics and benefits of telepractice
When reading about this healthcare model, you may see various terms used throughout the industry: telemedicine, telehealth, telepractice, teletherapy, etc. While they are typically interchangeable, ASHA chooses to use the term telepractice over telehealth to “avoid the misperception that these services are used only in a healthcare setting.” ASHA defines telepractice as, “the application of telecommunications technology to the delivery of speech language pathology and audiology professional services at a distance by linking clinician to client or clinician to clinician for assessment, intervention, and/or consultation.”
In terms of licensing, you can work with patients in any state as long as you are licensed in the state where the client lives. As a practitioner, this gives you the flexibility to make your own hours, pick up extra clients, and work as an independent contractor from the comfort of your home or practice. More importantly, it enables you to work with clients in underserved or rural areas—helping to expand their access to care and improve their quality of life. Additionally, it can ease the burden off of your client’s caretaker or guardian. When regular in-person office visits feel difficult due to work schedules, transportation issues, illness, or other extenuating circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic, teletherapy can be a great solution.
When teletherapy is appropriate
Teletherapy can be extremely effective for SLP and OT patients, clients, and students alike, but as a practitioner, it is important to understand the circumstances that are most appropriate for this model of therapy. For example, SLPs can refer to these guidelines from ASHA. Occupational therapists should refer to these resources from AOTA. Regardless of discipline, it is paramount to consider applicable goals for virtual treatment.
How to get started
Many practitioners wonder how they can use their tangible materials in a virtual world. If you don’t know how to get started, remember, the goals that you are targeting have not changed. The main difference is that your treatment is now being performed through a screen. Adaptability is key for success in teletherapy. You’ll want to utilize resources that minimize stress while maintaining the quality of therapy. To diversify your clinical toolbox, make the following investments:
Apps + Tech:
- Abby Fine Scanner: Use this tool to take photos of worksheets in order to convert them into PDFs that can be shared with clients.
- iPad or tablet device: iPads and most tablet devices allow you to set up a screen share with your clients via an app called Mirroring360. This educational tool allows apps on your own device to be available to the client/student you are working with. Since they are unable to manipulate your screen, this allows for opportunities to elicit expressive/receptive language.
- Document camera: This allows tele-therapists to project hard materials (i.e. worksheets, flashcards, etc.) onto the computer screen. It can also be used to play games that you would typically use in conventional therapy. Additionally, this cuts down the extra work for guardians who are orchestrating the session set up.
- Teachers Pay Teachers: An educational marketplace, Teachers Pay Teachers is a great resource for therapy practitioners. From activities to worksheets, you’ll have access to a ton of supplemental session plans for your clients.
- Pinterest: Let Pinterest be your vision board for your activities. It can also help you organize resources to come back to at a later date.
In a telepractice model, your relationship with a client’s parent, guardian, or caregiver is especially significant. Acting as your support, their engagement in or orchestration of your session can drive your client’s level of engagement. Since this can have a direct impact on the client’s progress, you must establish strong communication with the parent/guardian, answer any initial or ongoing questions, and set expectations for each teletherapy session.
Although you may perform treatment on your own, your “team” is now much larger. Tele-therapists are an entire community that is ever growing in today’s virtual world. In Speech-Language Pathology, for example, ASHA has a Special Interest Group (Group 18) specifically for telepractice. This community is uniquely collaborative, willing to share resources, and serve as a sounding board on various platforms. Facebook also has private groups designated for the telepractice/teletherapy community.