Speech therapy telepractice has seen a steady rise in popularity in the last decade. The rise is consistent with the upward trend of telehealth in general.
A recent survey reports 42% of Americans now use some form of telehealth services. Convenience and avoidance of potential exposure to illness are among the top reasons for telehealth favorability among those surveyed.
Though it may seem telepractice is a new phenomenon in SLP, it’s not.
SLP telepractice dates back to a 1970’s grant-funded program at the V.A. Hospital in Birmingham, AL.
By the mid-2000s, ASHA established its official position that telepractice is an appropriate model for service delivery for SLPs and audiologists.
So What is Telepractice?
ASHA defines telepractice as “the application of telecommunications technology to the delivery of professional services at a distance. It links clinician to client, or clinician to clinician, for assessment, intervention, and /or consultation.”
ASHA coined the term “telepractice” to differentiate the services from the more commonly used “telehealth” or “telemedicine” terms. The reason?
To avoid the perception that these services are only done in health care settings.
As a speech therapist, you’re well aware that the services you provide also occur in a variety of settings outside of traditional health care settings.
Telepractice: What are the benefits?
Telepractice allows clients access to services:
- If they live in a rural or underserved area
- If they are physically unable to travel to appointments
- While avoiding exposure to potential illness
Telepractice allows clinicians to have:
- Location independence (relative to licensing considerations)
- Scheduling flexibility
- Elimination of a daily commute
- Improved work-life balance
- Expansion of traditional services using a hybrid approach
With the potential expansion of your geographic reach you’d think there’s a large opportunity for you as a speech therapist, right?
Indeed there is.
A Transparency Market Research report predicted the telehealth market to exceed $19B by 2025 worldwide.
More stunning is, the report was created before the global pandemic. Meaning the $19B figure is probably underestimated.
COVID-19 is responsible for uncertainty about the short-term future of the traditional practice.
Telehealth is no longer an add-on or convenience. The fact is, it’s a requirement for many.
So now you might be asking yourself, “How do I start a speech therapy telepractice?”
This article will discuss several key steps to help you do just that.
Get to Know State Licensing Requirements
Whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned therapist, you’re well aware of the importance of knowing your state’s licensing requirements. Telepractice does not change this fact.
What makes telepractice unique is, you’re able to serve clients in multiple states without physical relocation. This presents a unique opportunity to expand your reach well beyond your state lines.
This is especially powerful if you have an area of expertise not widely available outside of your geographic area.
But for you to reach clients in those areas, you must review each target state’s licensing requirements. You also need to be familiar with each state’s practice act. The last thing you want to do is unknowingly violate state rules.
A great place to start is ASHA’s State-by-State resource page. Once there you’ll find direct links to licensure information for each state.
Consider What Services You Can Provide Virtually
Now that you have a grasp on state license requirements and scope of practice, you must determine what services you’ll provide.
Some things simply aren’t appropriate for virtual practice. A VFSS (modified barium swallow study) must be done in-person, for example.
That said, there are plenty of activities and tools you already have in your professional toolbox that’ll translate well to telepractice.
In this step, you should take some time to write down all the interventions you have in your arsenal. For each intervention/activity, ask yourself if it is well-suited to provide online. Consider the ideal client for each activity. Will the client be able to participate online in an engaging way? Will adapting the intervention to online create more problems than it solves?
Choose Your Setting(s)
Having determined what services you can provide, you’ll have a good idea of what setting(s) you can serve. Perhaps your list of services allows you to work with clients in schools and skilled facilities with no current in-house speech therapist. Maybe you’ll only work with private clients that are in their own homes.
Though telepractice allows more flexibility to work in all these settings, you’ll have to consider the fact that the gatekeeper for each different setting may be different.
For instance, you may see an opportunity in providing telepractice services to appropriate nursing home residents. But you run into problems getting access due to administrator resistance. This might be due to a lack of familiarity. It could also be due to cost.
Conversely, you may have no problem getting buy-in from a private client regarding the benefits of your services.
This is something to consider when choosing your setting(s).
Your “Virtual Office”-Choosing a Platform
You know what services you can provide. You know your ideal clients and settings. Now you must figure out HOW to provide the services to your clients. You need the right telepractice platform.
You see, your telepractice platform is your virtual treatment room. And like your brick and mortar office, you want a space that is private, comfortable, clean, and easy to navigate.
Your virtual office should be the same. Let’s look at some key factors to consider.
The most important factor is HIPAA compliance (with a signed Business Associate Agreement).
Like the clinic, the importance of protecting the privacy of your client’s personal health information is second-to-none. If a platform does not meet this requirement, consider it a dealbreaker. This is non-negotiable.
Other Telepractice Platform Factors to Consider
- Ease of use (for the therapist and the client)
- Ability to screen share
- Interactive real-time collaborative “whiteboard” feature for writing/drawing
- Integration (documentation, billing, scheduling)
- Screencasting (mirroring) from other devices
- Recording capability
This list is not exhaustive. And you’ll likely not require all these features. But these are a few things to think about when shopping around.
Professional Development-Stay on Top of Your Game
Telehealth is still in its relative infancy in the grand scheme of an ever-changing healthcare industry. So trying to keep up with the changes requires a great deal of intentional focus.
To establish and grow a thriving telepractice, you’ll need to be an avid consumer of content in this area. Whether it’s free content or paid content you should take advantage of every opportunity to learn what’s new in the world of telehealth.
The infancy of telehealth also presents another opportunity—An opportunity to take a peek at other industries to see if there are outside-the-box ideas that you can integrate into your telepractice.
Advances in technology have catapulted the healthcare industry. The growth and evolution of telehealth is a prime example of that. Now that a global public health crisis has pushed telehealth to the forefront of healthcare, there’s no going back.
What’s that mean for you?
It means there’s a massive opportunity for you to make an impact, whether you’re starting a new telepractice or adding telehealth services to an existing traditional practice.
It also means the sooner you get your telepractice up and running, the better—The better for your clients, the healthcare system, and your thriving business.
For more information on telehealth, visit our Telehealth Resource Center.