What is Online Speech Therapy?
Online speech therapy has caught mainstream attention in recent years as SLPs (speech-language pathologists) have unanimously attested to its vast potential.
Clinical sessions can typically involve listening, speaking, reading, writing, and even fun games. Students are screened and evaluated beforehand for their particular communication disorders, and the therapy sessions address basic deficiencies in areas such as fluency, language, cognition, etc.
All documents, including evaluations, are kept strictly private to ensure therapist-patient confidentiality. Therapists are fully credentialed licensed high-quality SLPs experienced in helping children just like your students.
How Schools Benefit from Online Speech Therapy
Providing online speech therapy means significant financial savings since schools can now afford high-quality SLP services for their students without incurring the expense of retaining in-house experts. What’s more, there’s no more worry of experiencing a speech therapist shortage, now that an online agency can deploy a therapist as requested.
And online speech therapy makes it extremely easy for your students to obtain the therapy services they need. Think about it: your students need to do no more than sit in front of a computer monitor and actively engage with the speech-language pathologist on the other end. Many children find this much less intimidating and even more fun than on-site sessions.
Using an online speech therapy agency will also help save students and therapists both time and money traveling to and from the session, which frees up more valuable time and financial resources for taking better care of each student’s other needs.
Whether your school is in a rural area lacking sufficient access to therapists, or you’re simply in need of an extended network of therapists able to provide superb speech therapy sessions for your students, online speech therapy affords you incredible flexibility and opportunity.
Increase in Teletherapy Due to the Pandemic
“Back in February of 2020, as COVID was just beginning to hit our country, telepsychiatry was already widely available but only sporadically adopted. Now it’s been a tsunami,” says Dr. Jay Shore, a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Telepsychiatry Committee.
In mid-May 2020, the American Psychiatric Association surveyed its members regarding how frequently they held tele-psych sessions before and after the onset of the pandemic. The results were striking and worthy of thought.
Prior to COVID-19, 63.6% of respondents did not use virtual sessions at all. After the onset of the pandemic, that figure plunged to just 1.9%. Conversely, before COVID-19 hit, only 2.1% reported using tele-psych 76-100% of the time. During the pandemic, that figure has soared to 84.7%.
And the migration from traditional face-to-face to remote therapy for speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists hasn’t been much different. This isn’t strictly a mental health phenomenon.
Why the Trend Will Continue
At first glance, one might regard this phenomenon as no more than reactionary and temporary. However, while other areas of life have suffered COVID fatigue with everyone anxious to return to “normal,” teletherapy is different. There are several reasons to believe that online speech therapy will continue to be part of our new reality.
While moving to teletherapy began as a necessity, many people like what they’re experiencing. The convenience is hard to beat: a 50-minute session is a 50-minute session, not 90 minutes as either the client or therapist spends time traveling to and from the appointment.
For rural communities, therapy deserts before COVID, the time factor is more than just a matter of convenience. Oftentimes the most accessible therapists are located in the big city, a considerable drive away. Dissolving the geographic barriers can be the difference as to whether someone receives therapy at all.
2. Continuity of Care
Teletherapy also facilitates more enduring therapist-client relationships. Should your family relocate to another city, you can fairly easily find another doctor to tend to your medical needs. The relationship you have with a doctor can be easily duplicated. However, the client-therapist relationship is often an entirely different matter. “The advantage [of teletherapy] is clearly that you get to have continuity of care,” says Lori Gottlieb, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and author of the book, Maybe You Should Talk.
Coinciding with the rapid expansion of teletherapy has been the increasing problem of implementing digital health solutions, particularly in the areas of telehealth and teletherapy, within the patchwork of federal and various state regulations. These often confusing and at times contradictory regulations have made it hard for providers and telehealth vendors to offer large-scale solutions, in particular across state lines.
However, during the recent state of public emergency, it was widely recognized on both the federal and state levels that the need to ease prior restrictions, and thereby expand telehealth availability, was critical. Easing these restrictions by developing cross-state practice models has helped patients receive care at home while reducing the spread of COVID-19.
If online speech therapy hopes to have a bright, post-pandemic future, that future will depend on more than just the recognition and acceptance by patients and providers. It will ultimately boil down to answering the key question: “Who will pay?”
The good news is that, during the pandemic, Medicare, many state Medicaid programs, and several commercial insurers loosened rules or permitted waivers to cover telehealth sessions. And Medicare and Medicaid, which together cover about a third of all Americans, have indicated that they are inclined to regard virtual visits to be on a par with traditional doctors’ appointments and therefore would reimburse doctors accordingly.
In the world of reimbursement, it is known that, as goes Medicare, so go many private health insurers, such as Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield. This could be a game-changer.
The Future is Now
This increasing acceptance of teletherapy has some in the clinical community believing that, not only is teletherapy the future of therapy, the future is now. As some are saying: “We will never be the same, we won’t go back to where we were.”