Comparing the Effectiveness of Teletherapy vs. In-Person Therapy
In the wake of COVID-19, innumerable changes have permeated our previous concept of “normal.” Some, perhaps temporary, as a safeguard for recovery but most, concrete—as we evolve into a permanently altered landscape. Healthcare and education are two of the more indistinct industries compared to pre-COVID times—both finding success in virtual practice, with the emergence of medical telehealth and distance learning for students.
Schools largely adopted the use of teletherapy to give students remote access to special education and mental health treatment when in-person options were not available, a 2021 study indicating usage by 60% of school speech language pathologists. Now, as students return to the classroom, the question remains—has teletherapy proven effective enough to sustain learning success?
Pre-Pandemic Teletherapy Adoption
The truth of the matter is that teletherapy was introduced in the treatment of speech and language disorders long before COVID-19 made it more universal. In fact, The Mayo Clinic endorsed teletherapy in 1997, deeming it “reliable, beneficial, and acceptable to patients with a variety of acquired speech and language disorders,” across medical settings.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) subsequently endorsed teletherapy in 2005 as “an appropriate model of service delivery for audiologists and speech-language pathologists.”
With established precedent, teletherapy has illustrated its potential for success in treating speech and language disorders overall—but how can that success be translated to the classroom?
Individualized Student Success
Speech and language therapy in a school setting can present unique challenges to students and therapists alike, adding additional classroom work and other potential distractions to the course of treatment. Can teletherapy be a bridge between students and their therapy goals in such a dynamic setting?
In 2011, the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department at Kent State conducted a pilot study to assess the effectiveness of speech sound disorder intervention delivered by telehealth to school-age children—yielding encouraging results.
The study directly compared the success of speech therapy for students using live interactive video conferencing (teletherapy) with conventional side-by-side intervention, “using pre-andpost-intervention scores,” to draw their conclusions. The results indicated that students from both service delivery models “made significant improvements in speech-sound production,” illustrating the merit of both methods in driving student success.
One factor differentiated the in-person and teletherapy approach in the participating students, however, with “students in the telehealth condition demonstrating greater mastery of their Individual Education Plan (IEP).”
What about teletherapy facilitated greater student mastery of their IEPs? One study doesn’t have all the answers—but the unique qualities of teletherapy can’t be ignored.
Through teletherapy, therapists can construct a treatment plan individually tailored to each student’s needs, with therapy sessions typically consisting of one-on-one or two-on-one interactions and minimizing potential distractions. In-person therapy in schools can vary in the size and dynamic of sessions, introducing the potential for unpredictability.
Teletherapy also encourages greater interactivity in treatment, offering a vast array of activities, tools, and programs for therapists to employ in each session. Using multi-media platforms and diverse materials allows therapists to learn their students’ interests more intimately, fostering greater engagement while progressing toward their individual treatment goals.
Why Introduce Teletherapy in Your District?
An important thing to remember is that teletherapy and in-person therapy are not mutually exclusive service delivery methods for your students. Having therapists onsite to conduct treatment is incredibly beneficial on its own, providing services students who better thrive in a face-to-face dynamic or do not have access to the technology used in teletherapy.
Teletherapy is not meant to replace the hard work and dedication of onsite therapists, but to support them in providing the best quality care for their students. By augmenting your special education team with qualified teletherapists, you can ensure smaller caseloads and less driving time between schools for current staff, along with IEP meeting and case management support—placing primary focus on what matters most: universal student care. Integrating teletherapy into your school is a fast and easy process, allowing you to fill immediate vacancies or add support to your team, right away.
Do you think teletherapy can benefit your district’s special education team? Learn more about the customizable, all-in-one services offered by AMN Healthcare.