Have you ever asked someone younger for help with technology? Did you notice the ease with which he or she solved your dilemma? The younger the person, the more comfortable they seem to be with technology. So, why not use that interest in technology to work with students that are under-served or may not be able to receive services altogether due to the SLP and other professional shortages around the nation?
Teletherapy can fill vacancies, help cover huge caseloads, keep districts in compliance and reach students in remote locations. The advantages are obvious, however you’re probably wondering how much work and time it would take to implement in your district. We’ve outlined the basic steps for getting started with teletherapy successfully.
Set Up Teletherapy Equipment
Most districts already have the necessary equipment for teletherapy. It is recommended to use a laptop no more than 3 years old to ensure it has enough processing speed to support the video-conferencing platform. Laptops typically have an internal webcam, microphone, and speaker that can be used, however, an external webcam with a built-in microphone is recommended. Why? It offers high-definition viewing, its microphone offers a high-quality signal, and are affordable. Also, a quiet space such as a Speech Therapy Room is ideal to designate for teletherapy sessions. Overall, there is minimal, if any, additional cost incurred when implementing teletherapy.
Coordinate Getting Students to Teletherapy
Who brings the students to their teletherapy sessions and back to class? Is the district required to hire someone for this purpose? While servicing students in a brick-and-mortar setting, I have worked with college students, retired paraprofessionals, and teachers’ aides as my tele-helpers (also called eHelpers or Facilitators). A tele-helper should be required, not only to ensure attendance, but to also monitor behavior among other tasks. Districts typically have money earmarked to pay a newly-hired, onsite SLP with benefits. Having been unsuccessful, perhaps some of these funds could be used to pay a telehelper.
Prepare School Administrators
Will a teletherapy program increase an administrator’s workload? No, not if the district is working with a reliable teletherapy company. Setting up this type of service delivery should fall upon the teletherapy company working with the district’s IT department and the teletherapists. Look for a teletherapy company that offers top notch technology support. Advanced offers a Teletherapy success team who is onsite during the integration process and available 24/7 afterwards.
Educate Parents and Staff on Teletherapy
Explaining how teletherapy can benefit district SLPs and students is critical for acceptance. When the district’s caseloads are overflowing, or a qualified professional cannot be found to fill a vacancy, teletherapy is a viable option. It is not unusual for district’s SLPs, other staff, and some parents to be cautious of a teletherapy program. Ask if the teletherapy company could send a representative to the school to in-service staff and conduct a parent meeting about teletherapy. If that’s not feasible, request that teletherapy company conduct a live conference meeting to discuss the efficacy of this type of service delivery.
To explain “teletherapy” to others using familiar technology, one could present an example of meeting a physician online (e.g., Teladoc) for an office visit. If Skype or FaceTime are more relatable, teletherapy is similar with the exception that teletherapy is HIPAA-compliant and completely confidential. One could explain an additional benefit of this type of service delivery; students’ parents can observe their child’s teletherapy sessions from anywhere if they have a computer or mobile device and an Internet connection.
Maintain Compliance, Monitor Progress and IEP Paperwork
Understanding and maintaining HIPAA compliance is a requirement of all teletherapists. State licensure, association accreditation, and other qualifications are required of every teletherapist before being offered a contract. In terms of HIPAA compliance on the district’s end, the company’s technology department works with the district’s IT group to prepare the computers involved.
How is student progress monitored when the teletherapist is working from home? Teletherapists are required to provide progress reports using the online platform or software the district uses for Special Education according to the district’s schedule. This is the same requirement as onsite therapists.
Each district has its own way of conducting IEP meetings especially when the SLP is case manager. The process expectations should be documented in writing for all. The teletherapists should be required to follow the district’s processes and timelines.
Teletherapy is a unique, service delivery model that utilizes students’ technology interests to accomplish their IEP goals. Once staff and parents are educated about teletherapy and its benefits, they soon come to realize that teletherapy is a welcome addition to the district’s Special Education offerings.
Written by: Tracy Sippl MS, CCC-SLP, Speech/Language Pathologist, Teletherapist, Teletherapy Consultant, and Advanced Clinical Supervisor. Member of ASHA SIG18 Coordinating Committee.