Many areas of medicine are continuing to improve with the advent of telemedicine practices. A growing number of people are able to consult with specialists remotely, have their medical conditions (both chronic and acute) diagnosed and treated, and have better overall health care because of these advances. As technology affects and transforms the health care industry, it’s likely we’ll continue to see additional telemedicine services being offered for a variety of medical issues. In recent years, teletherapy has been used to help treat individuals who need speech therapy. Here’s a look at how these online options can be just as useful as in-person visits.
Speech therapy is the evaluation and treatment of people who are having issues with speech, language, cognitive function, or problems that affect their learning, memory, or problem-solving skills. There are also swallowing disorders that can be treated with speech therapy. Adults can develop speech issues after a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or concussion, or because of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or multiple sclerosis. Although adults can be in need of treatment, it’s more likely that people hear about speech therapy for children.
There are several speech disorders children experience that can benefit from speech therapy, including articulation disorders (difficulties producing sounds or saying words incorrectly), fluency disorders (stuttering, partial-word repetitions, or prolonged sounds), and resonance or voice disorders (problems with pitch, volume, or quality of voice that can cause pain or discomfort for the child). There are also specific language disorders, such as receptive disorders (difficulty understanding or processing language), expressive disorders (difficulty putting words together or limited vocabulary), and cognitive-communication disorders (difficulty with communication skills like memory, perception, and regulation) that can occur in childhood. Children can also need speech therapy because of hearing impairments, developmental delays, weak oral muscles, birth defects, autism, and respiratory problems.
A speech therapist, or speech-language pathologist (SLP), is educated in the study of human communication, its development, and its disorders. They typically hold a master’s degree and state certification or license, along with a certificate of clinical competency from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). They use different strategies to help eliminate or alleviate a person’s symptoms. With children, these methods can include language intervention activities, which have the therapist interact with the child by playing and talking and using repetition exercises to build language skills. There is also articulation therapy, where the therapist models correct sounds for the child during specific play activities. Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy can also be beneficial for some patients. Therapists can build on each step of progress the child makes and create new goals as they continue on with the speech therapy sessions.
The use of online speech therapy has continued to grow for a number of reasons. First, it can be challenging for some families to find qualified speech therapists near them – especially if they live in a rural area. Access to high-quality therapy can be essential for patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access help. Second, using these teletherapy methods means that it can sometimes be more affordable for the patient. Some school districts in the U.S. offer speech therapy to their students, but many districts don’t have the resources to provide complete, comprehensive care. However, they might have more funds to provide online speech therapy, since this can be a cheaper option. Additionally, if parents can’t afford in-person therapy sessions, they might find that online therapy can be more affordable.
There are other benefits to using telemedicine measures for speech therapy. Using online video conferences can mean that families have much more convenient options for treatment. Sessions can be scheduled when it’s most convenient for the parents and child. For busy working parents, families who use online therapy services also don’t have to worry about finding transportation for their children for in-person visits. Therefore, scheduling and completing sessions can be a less stressful experience for the whole family.
There also can be something of a stigma attached to therapy. For some kids, going to a speech therapist for help with a stutter or speech impediment can make them feel different to or singled out from other kids in their class. They can miss important classwork and time spent in the classroom, which can make them feel separate from their friends or cause them to fall behind in their schoolwork. Online speech therapy can mean that the child can get the same help outside of school hours without setting themselves apart from their classmates or taking them away from valuable class time. This can end up boosting their confidence and overall self-esteem.
Online speech therapy can also be more therapeutically beneficial. Oftentimes, students who meet with a school therapist do so infrequently. Much of the progress gained during a session can be lost from week to week (or during longer periods of time). Teletherapy video conferences mean a student can have more consistent treatment and possibly more frequent sessions to enhance the treatment and boost odds of improvement. Telemedicine can actually be a more advantageous option than traditional in-person methods if more persistent treatment is available to the patient.
Not only can online speech therapy be just as effective as in-person visits, it can also actually have even further benefits. Treatment can be more affordable, more convenient, and more progressive, resulting in children (and adults) facing a greater chance of seeing their symptoms improve or disappear altogether. With these noticeable advantages, it’s no wonder telemedicine measures are continuing to grow across the country.