The Coming Wave of Telepractice

Online speech therapy, or teletherapy as it has come to be known, is growing in popularity around the country. The reason is quite simple. The wonders of modern technology allow speech therapy services to be delivered to more people in need as barriers of time and distance melt away right in front of you on the screen.

However, along with the growing popularity is growing controversy as well. Access and convenience are probably desirable, but at what price? Would you sacrifice the superior session delivered to your child by a face-to-face speech therapist for the benefits of online speech therapy?

The Research

There have been reviews over the years beginning with the landmark study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 1997 and then later corroborated by Kent State researchers in 2011 showing the effectiveness of telepractice. In fact online speech therapy for children is similar to the face to face delivery model.

Extension to the geriatric population

A recent study conducted by a group of Canadian researchers at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care seems to have extended these findings to include the geriatric population as well.

The journal, The findings, Aphasiology, has published the results of these researchers showing that stroke patients receiving speech therapy via teletherapy saw improvements in their communication skills, comparable to obtaining face to face treatment.

The study consisted of 44 patients, suffering from communication problems related to a stroke for at least half a year before the beginning of the study.

The findings of this report are significant in that they may open the doors to expanded use of telepractice. This is particularly the case for elderly patients living in rural areas suffering the debilitating effects of a stroke and its related communication disorders.

Despite ample evidence that patients are suffering from aphasia and other communication disorders showing that they would benefit from therapy for years, nonetheless these patients are provided with but a few months of treatment. Geographic barriers are generally the culprit for these lost benefits.

Solving Attendant Problems

There was a surprise finding in the study as well. It seems that patients who received their therapy via online therapy were less confident than patients who received identical treatment face to face. And low confidence in one’s communication skills can morph into greater isolation and other problems.

What’s the solution? Encouraging patients to find ways to socially engage outside of the therapy session can be of great help. Also, clinicians should introduce their patients to tablet-based or laptop-based applications to reinforce daily those skills worked on in the speech therapy session.

The Future Looks Bright

This study holds great promise for the future of telepractice in treating a variety of communication disorders. Once some of the adjunct problems of using remote therapy such as isolation are addressed, it is hoped that this wondrous technology can be harnessed to alleviate the suffering of the rural population.

The applications need not be limited to the rural population only. Many living in metropolitan areas aren’t having their needs met either. One thing is clear. As teletherapy continues to evolve and become perfect, the sky is the limit!