The following article was originally published on the Advanced school staffing page of Advanced Medical which is now a part of AMN Healthcare.
Advantages of Teletherapy for Special Education
Have you ever asked someone younger for help with technology? Did you notice the ease with which they 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 who are underserved or unable to receive services due to shortages of speech-language pathologists and other healthcare professionals across 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 teletherapy in your district. We’ve outlined the basic steps for starting a successful teletherapy program.
Set up teletherapy equipment
Most districts already have the necessary equipment for teletherapy. It is recommended to use a laptop no more than three years old to ensure 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 it’s affordable. Also, for on-site sessions a quiet space such as a speech therapy room is ideal to designate for teletherapy. 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, if the sessions are on-site in school? Is the district required to hire someone for this purpose? While servicing students in a brick-and-mortar setting, a school or district can deploy college students, retired paraprofessionals, and teachers’ aides as tele-helpers (also called ehelpers or facilitators). A tele-helper should be required, not only to ensure attendance, but to also monitor behavior and other tasks. Districts typically have money earmarked to pay a newly hired, onsite speech language pathologist with benefits; funds could also be used for a tele-helper.
Prepare school administrators
Will a teletherapy program increase an administrator’s workload? 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 teletherapists. Look for a teletherapy company that offers top-notch technology support. AMN offers a teletherapy success team that can be present on-site during the integration process and is available 24/7 afterwards.
Educate parents and staff about teletherapy
Explaining how teletherapy can benefit district speech language pathologists 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 speech language pathologists, other staff, and some parents to be cautious about a teletherapy program. Ask if the teletherapy company could send a representative to the school for an in-service program and conduct a parent meeting about teletherapy.
To explain teletherapy to others using familiar technology, it can be compared to a physician or nurse telehealth appointment. People are also very familiar with Zoom meetings; teletherapy is similar with the exception that teletherapy is HIPAA-compliant and completely confidential. An additional benefit to teletherapy is that students’ parents can observe their children’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 department 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 on-site therapists.
Each district has its own way of conducting IEP meetings, especially when the speech language pathologist is case manager. The process expectations should be documented in writing for all. 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.
Learn more about how AMN Healthcare can help you with your teletherapy and school staffing needs.
Written by Tracy Sippl, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech/Language Pathologist, Teletherapist, Teletherapy Consultant, and Advanced Clinical Supervisor. Member of ASHA SIG18 Coordinating Committee.