Telehealth is a way of delivering Speech Pathology services over phone or video for you to meet your therapy goals. This mode of service delivery has been used widely in Australia across the health services domain since the 1970s, serving those who lives in rural and remote communities. Instead of face to face services, telehealth uses telephone connections or internet services to connect with your therapist via video or phone.
There is an extensive body of research on the benefits of telehealth and speech pathology service delivery. Some of the many positive outcomes include:
- Telehealth ensures you aren’t missing out on therapy or not progressing when unable to come into the clinic.
- Telehealth has been shown to be effective for many areas of speech pathology including communication partner training or coaching, teaching new words and sounds, language stimulation and assessing swallowing disorders.
- There are a variety of options for remote service delivery so if you don’t have internet or equipment for videoconferencing there are alternative options to suit you.
- No travel time for client or therapist meaning more of your funds go towards the part of the therapy that matters the most – the session!
- No travel time and less effort to get to the session can result in lower fatigue levels and potential for enhanced learning for some clients. It also means you don’t need to set the other children or people in your household up with something to do in the waiting room – they can keep doing what they would otherwise be doing if the session wasn’t happening.
- Increased flexibility – if telehealth doesn’t work, we can look at other remote therapy options as needed.
- Telehealth and remote service delivery prioritises the health and wellbeing of our clients, their families and our team through social distancing.
A telehealth session is only slightly different to a clinic-based session – the main difference is that the session is delivered over a screen! The theory behind strategies and treatment approaches is all exactly the same and the research indicates that telehealth is just as successful, if not better, than clinic-based sessions. This is because there is a bigger reliance on the support of the communication partner for prompting and cueing during sessions and as their communication partner, if you know how to do this just as well as the Speech Pathologist, then you keep doing it outside of the session too meaning progress will be quicker!
Interaction and engagement are something we need to consider in a telehealth session however this is the same consideration as a face-to-face session – if the activity isn’t motivating, whether it’s face-to-face or virtually, no one will want to do it. We will be doing lots of preparation before sessions to ensure we have the right activities to keep engagement throughout the session high.
The style of therapy may also be a bit different depending on your goals. So instead of the therapist being as hands on in the session and doing the therapy strategies directly, you may find that they use more of a coaching model and train you in how to do what they would do. We see this as educating ourselves out of a job! If you can do what we would do in a 45-minute session, for every other minute you’re with them, you won’t need to see us for as long because progress should happen more quickly. Although, in some circumstances we can still do the therapy directly through a telehealth model of service delivery. More information about these styles is outlined below.
This is when therapy sessions are adapted in a way to teach and coach communication partners, guardians and family to deliver therapy. Sessions are geared towards giving information, education, coaching and troubleshooting if any problems arise. This model includes the therapist observing the family member, guardian or other communication partner using the target strategies, and providing feedback on their performance. Communication partners are empowered to transfer the skills and techniques they have learnt during therapy sessions to their home environment. There is a large body of research that details positive outcomes from this mode of delivery and its long-term impact on goal attainment.
This is similar to the traditional model of therapy, where sessions are geared towards behavior change of the individual through a hands-on approach from the therapist. Sessions may seem similar; however, the style of activities and therapy tasks can be different. Dependent on the goals or the participant, therapy tasks can include interactive and motivating activities completed either electronically, or within your home!
Not everyone is going to be an ideal candidate for telehealth! There are some goals that may be a bit tricky to target using this interface. If you’re concerned about how you or your child’s goals may align with telehealth, speak with your therapist about some alternative options.
Some people may find it difficult to attend to the screen for a long period of time (I’m not sure of many children with this problem though!) or you may have tried facetiming a family member and the person has lost interest after a short period of time. This may be the case for that scenario but doing therapy over telehealth is very different to having a conversation with a family member – the activities are set up specifically for them to enjoy and engage with.
We have also experienced where people are more engaged and have even said words they’ve never said before because the environment is different and therefore more engaging than playing with the same toys in the therapy room. We can share our screen and use interactive online games or turn our screen on and off to create “magic” of us disappearing and reappearing.
This may also be the perfect opportunity to focus on those attention and engagement goals. Your therapist is working hard to develop a session plan that incorporates each individual’s needs (such as movement breaks) and their activities of interest.
For telehealth sessions to work, you will need:
Telehealth relies on a good connection through telephone or internet. Sometimes, there can be dropouts from internet connection issues or computer’s freezing. To get a good outcome, research recommends a connection of 25 Mbps or faster.
It can be difficult to set up telehealth if using computers or smart phones and devices are new to you. That’s why we have created this information sheet with lots of valuable information, and we offer a free 15-minute phone consultation with our Clinic Support Officers to assist you with this set up.
Our therapists are ready to help you throughout the session as well – just let us know any issues you have, and we will help you solve them as best as possible.
You don’t need to do anything except let us know that you are ready to give it a try. Our Clinic Support Officers will contact you to book the free 15-minute teleconferencing set up session before your first therapy session to assist you with any troubleshooting and make sure your set up is great. This is a great time to trial how things work – don’t worry about feeling silly, we are all learning this new system too.
At the time of your appointment, you will receive an email with a link to join the Zoom Meeting that is set up specifically for you. Click on that link, and you will be joined by a friendly SpeechEase face.
NB: Zoom is a free, encrypted platform which is approved for video conferencing under the Australian Privacy Principals.
For telehealth to be as successful as possible, there are some factors to consider:
- The session is conducted within a quiet space, free from human traffic/distractions and background noise. We want to keep engagement as high as possible from anything happening around you/them.
- The space for someone to sit is comfortable, and the webcam and monitor is placed at eye level of the person and kept stable. We want you to be comfortable to engage for our session time, and your therapist can see you (and your mouth) clearly!
- There is space to sit for a parent or guardian or therapy partner to assist (as required but especially for young children). We want any additional supports to be engaged in the session as well to generalize and transfer these skills to your home.
- There are adequate power sources available. We want to reduce any dropouts for preventable causes.
If you’re paying for the session on the day, you will have one of our Clinic Support Officers jump into our call at the end to take your payment. This is also a great time to offer any immediate feedback. If you don’t usually pay for the session on the day, you will receive your invoice as normal or the session will be processed through the NDIS portal or sent to your plan manager as normal. Your therapist will then complete the notes from the session and follow up/email any documents or worksheets for homework during this time.
That can happen, and that’s ok! The first few times of anything new can feel quite awkward and be tricky for everyone. Practice based evidence shows that it can take at least 3 sessions to find the flow with each other. We would recommend offering your therapist some constructive feedback about what you think would make the session better!
We can always switch to an alternative therapy option at any time, and we have a variety of options. They can all be found here: https://www.speechease.net.au/therapy-options/
Of course, we would love to have you back! Ensure that you have ongoing sessions booked with your therapist and that you have funding available for ongoing sessions.
We would really appreciate your feedback on telehealth sessions – both positive and constructive! We are always looking for ways to improve our service, and this delivery model is relatively new to us. Please consider sending us your feedback through this link: https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/5368111/SpeechEase-Feedback-Questionnaire