Teletherapy is the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via high-resolution, live video conferencing. Teletherapy sessions are very similar to traditional speech, occupational therapy, or mental health sessions with one major exception. Instead of sitting in the same room, students and therapists interact via live video conferencing.
During therapy sessions, the student and therapist can see, hear, and interact with one another in real time, using webcams, headsets, and a live, synchronous online learning environment.
If you’ve ever used Skype on your computer or FaceTime on your iPhone, you’ve used a similar type of technology.
The actual therapy is the same as the therapist would deliver face-to-face, only teletherapy is done with a computer! Licensed therapists use traditional therapy techniques and activities and enhance those techniques through innovative software and tools and have the technology literally at their fingertips to plan and deliver high-quality services.
Teletherapy can deliver speech-language, occupational, and mental health therapies. Regarding speech-language therapy, it is most common to find language and articulation delivered via teletherapy. However, this is not due to the effectiveness of the therapy, but rather to reimbursement limitations.
Approximately 5% of America’s school-age population – 3.5 million children – require speech, occupational, or mental health therapy. While the need is growing annually, there is an increasing shortage of therapists to meet that demand.
As reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: “there is a considerable national shortage of SLPs projected over the next five years. An additional 28,800 SLPs will be needed to fill the demand between 2010 and 2020a 23% increase in job openings.”
Further exacerbating the problem, the geographical distribution of these therapists is unequal, which means that there is a worsening shortage, particularly in rural areas. This makes it difficult for schools to provide adequate services for many of their children who desperately need services.
The growing SLP shortage means higher caseloads for district therapists which results in inferior therapy sessions for the children, leads to SLP burnout on an unprecedented scale, causes unexpected recruiting and turnover expenses, and students making slower—or no—progress against their IEP goals.
Recruiting and retaining staff serving students with disabilities is particularly difficult in rural areas. Salaries are not competitive, and rural areas are far from urban cultural centers and universities, which restrict teachers from participating in training and development programs that would enhance them professionally.
Attrition of speech therapists in rural districts can be two to three times the national average. Turnover is especially acute among professionals who travel long distances from site to site, on an itinerant basis, to serve students with disabilities. Many teachers reportedly resigned because of the isolation of their social and cultural lives.
Also, finding replacement therapists is no picnic for school administrators. The higher recruitment fees charged by staffing agencies to find “distant and elusive” SLPs, and the tragic reality is this: there is less money available to provide the children with the services they need.
The shortage has inflated the cost of therapy and put a heavy burden on already overstretched school budgets and personnel who must spend inordinate amounts of time and energy searching for and managing scarce therapists. Often, rural school districts cannot afford to have their therapists.
Teletherapy is an innovative, cost-effective solution that offers maximum flexibility by overcoming barriers of distance, unavailability of specialists, and impaired mobility.
While onsite contractors control the timing and may lock schools into rigid schedules, the network of therapists and the online delivery model allows for therapy to be provided when it’s convenient for the school and the students; even if that’s before or after school hours.
By extending top-quality clinical services to remote, rural, and underserved populations, teletherapy holds the key to significantly reducing therapist shortages, guaranteeing children needed services, and alleviating severely strained school budgets. As a result, school administrators and SpEd directors can be free to focus on other critical educational priorities.
There is a myth circulating in therapy circles that teletherapy is of inferior quality to traditional face-to-face therapy. This is patently false.
Since therapists are ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) certifed, there is no compromise in the quality of the therapist.
Regarding the online mode of delivery, teletherapy has been used successfully since the late 1990s for hundreds of thousands of therapy sessions across the United States. It is and has been considered an effective and appropriate therapeutic delivery mode based on 20 years of research by over 40 academic published studies.
The first was the landmark paper by the Mayo Clinic in 1997 which stated, “Telemedicine (teletherapy) evaluations can be reliable, beneficial, and acceptable to patients with a variety of acquired speech and language disorders, both in rural settings and within large multidisciplinary medical settings.”
Also, ASHA gave its endorsement in 2005: “Based on the strong body of peer-reviewed research supporting telepractice … ASHA recognizes telepractice (teletherapy) as a valid means of service delivery for audiologists and speech-language pathologists.”
Worth noting, the effectiveness of telepractice (teletherapy) was corroborated by a 2011 study by Kent State University researchers comparing students receiving traditional in-person therapy and those receiving telepractice in public school settings. They found that the outcomes for the telepractice group were equal or better than the in-person group.
Global Teletherapy has formed an extensive team of highly qualified speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and mental health clinicians who deliver top-quality teletherapy in 27 states.
Over the past few years, Global Teletherapy has played a pivotal role in helping children, regardless of geographic location, who otherwise would have no access to SLPs, OTs, or counselors get the therapy they need to be successful.
Unfortunately, there is a myth that teletherapy is technically complicated. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the technology is quite powerful, setup and using that technology is quite simple and straightforward!
A Global Teletherapy, our representatives walk new therapists through the process, and a Global Teletherapy tech will always be there to provide any necessary support.
Technical requirements on the part of the therapist are only a computer with an Internet connection, a webcam, and an audio headset. If needed, Global Teletherapy can provide a specified amount of webcams and headsets at no extra charge.
The confidentiality and privacy of all student data and secure information is protected as our system is secure and encrypted per HIPAA and FERPA regulations and COPPA compliant.
As long as you have experiencing delivering therapy onsite for those diagnoses that you will be providing online, you should be fine. Your therapeutic experience is necessary because teletherapy doesn’t alter the techniques and treatment approaches that are appropriate but rather is their adaption to the online venue.
Teletherapy could be delivered in practically any setting that onsite therapy is provided such as in the home, in a hospital, in a clinic, etc., However, at the moment the only environment in which teletherapy is widespread is in the schools.
Neither major insurances nor Medicare currently reimburses for teletherapy services. That being said, substantial efforts are being made at both the local and federal level to change this.
While study after study demonstrates the effectiveness of this excellent alternative, nevertheless some students will still benefit more from traditional on-site therapy. For example, online therapy is not the preferred option for students with minimal attention skills or alertness. In some instances, a “hybrid” option (combining on-site with online therapy) may be optimal.
The therapist initially makes contact with parents and teachers at the beginning of the year and provides their contact information. They email the teacher monthlyat a minimumto discuss targets, progress, and needs in the classroom/curriculum.
The online therapist will communicate with parents in the same way an onsite therapist would. Homework, as well as notes, are “sent-home” through a virtual backpack. Clinicians deliver IEP progress reports and participate in IEP meetings via video conference.
Yes! One of the many advantages of teletherapy is its flexibility. You can do teletherapy part-time if you like. And if you get hooked, full-time positions are available as well. Whenever it works for you, don’t forget that you will be working from the comfort of your home!