According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), speech telepractice is “the application of telecommunications technology to the delivery of speech-language pathology and audiology professional services at a distance.”
Also known as speech teletherapy, telepractice is an emerging trend that is growing in the field of speech therapy. Utilizing online services, speech-language pathologists can connect with patients to provide speech therapy services.
When it comes to new technology in healthcare, there is always some skepticism before a mass implementation. This country is facing a health care personnel shortage and it seems that various health technologies may be able to bridge the gap. Speech telepractice has the potential to extend the reach of speech therapy services while lowering the cost of care.
Benefits of Speech Telepractice
There are many advantages of speech teletherapy services. Schools, students, parents, and clinicians can all benefit from telepractice services.
The most obvious benefit of any telehealth practice or service is the reach and access patients and clinicians have. Speech therapists can reach places and patients that live far away or only have availability outside of business hours. Furthermore, it may help therapists be able to expand the number of patients they can reach since they don’t have to spend time traveling.
Children are able to receive therapy whether they are at school or at home, at night or on weekends. Telepractice allows students, patients, and therapists to have flexibility in scheduling care.
There is a dire need for speech-language therapists in schools. Moreover, budget cuts in education keep schools from the speech therapist resources they need. With speech telepractice, schools can have a single point of contact for various therapy services. Even for schools that do have speech-language therapists, students that need extra care can utilize these services.
Most noteworthy, telepractice also allows schools to genuinely personalize therapy services for their students, finding culture and linguistic fits for their students. This is a benefit that would be hard to get from hired therapists. The amount of diversity available with telepractice services would not be feasible with a staff of a few speech therapists.
Supported by Research
Abington Speech Pathology Services, Inc. (ASPS) collaborated with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to study how children and students respond to speech teletherapy services. Prior to this study, there no telepractice research from the perspective of a student. Using a telepractice service called RemoteSpeech, students completed questionnaires after therapy. As a result of the study, researchers found students were satisfied and engaged with telepractice therapy services. In addition, most of the students wanted to continue with speech teletherapy services in the future.
Drawbacks of Speech Teletherapy
With all good things come some bad, and that holds true for speech telepractice services. There are some issues that will keep some people from being able to take advantage of the effective and cost-efficient services.
Speech Telepractice Evolution
Like most industries fueled by technology and innovation, the speech teletherapy field is going to continue growing and evolving. Because of that fact, ongoing training and education will be critical for therapists to maintain expertise. They will need to know about technology and innovation changes, as well as clinical applications.
Barriers to Entry
One barrier to entry is the technology necessary for telepractice. The child or school will need the right technology to be able to connect with therapists. For students that cannot receive services during school hours and don’t have the technology, they may not be able to use these services. This includes having connectivity issues as patients will need high-speed internet.
There are also barriers to entries for speech therapists. There are varying state requirements for certification and licenses necessary regarding speech telepractice services. For this reason, therapists must be licensed in both, their home state, and the residing state of the patient/client.
Another barrier to entry will be the state legislation regarding telepractice and insurance coverage. Some states may have legislation in place that will make it hard to practice speech teletherapy. Especially because this is a newer technology, insurance companies and programs will be apprehensive to cover or reimburse for the services. Some states are currently covering speech telepractice services, but for those people that cannot find coverage, they will have to pay out of pocket.
The future of speech telepractice looks bright. There is a growing number of patients that need speech-language services, and a growing number of speech therapists that are needed. As it grows in popularity, speech teletherapy will help bridge the gap between people needed care and quality speech therapy services.