Bridging the Gap in Speech Therapy Availability in Rural Areas
If you’re curious why teletherapy and telemedicine is such a growing industry, think about this concept. It is often difficult for rural patients in need of speech therapy to find practitioners in or around their area. Travel times can be more than an hour each way for qualified care. People in states that are primarily rural can find it even more challenging to locate providers, and may have no reasonable options from which to choose. One of the ways providers have been addressing this lack of service is by increasing the availability of virtual sessions with the assistance of videoconferencing technology.
According to Medicaid, telemedicine facilitates real time communication between a patient and a provider who are in different locations. Electronic communication utilizing video and audio equipment are required for telemedicine. It is considered a viable cost-effective alternative to traditional services for patients who have limited access to those services.
Telemedicine has become common in fields such as radiology, psychiatry, dermatology, therapy, and rehabilitation. The number of specialties and services that are offered increase on almost a daily basis. The University of Kentucky recently received a federal grant from the Department of Education to help develop telemedicine training for speech-language pathologists. The 40 graduate level speech-language pathologists being trained over the next five years will work with public school students in underserved rural areas of Kentucky.
The skills necessary to provide services for a patient via telemedicine are similar in methodology but differ significantly in delivery. The licensing and insurance reimbursement issues are different for a service provided in a telemedicine setting. Be prepared by checking each states’ requirements before obtaining licensure and if telemedicine is recognized or not. Students must also learn how to use the technical components that will make delivering sessions possible. In addition to the legal and technical aspects of telemedicine, the clinician delivering services will also need to learn about the cultural complexities of the rural areas they will be serving.
Future of Speech-Pathology in Telemedicine
The research that has been done to develop best practices for speech-language pathologists who are interested in helping patients via telemedicine has been promising. However, there are still numerous areas that need more detailed research which is why the UK research grant is so invaluable. Some of the areas that need greater research include:
- Validation of clinical protocols for speech-pathology telepractice.
- Validation and reliability techniques to ensure effective results.
- Establish technical specification standards for clinical procedures, application, and service delivery models.
The ability of future speech-language pathologists to provide services for even the most remote patients will continue to increase over the coming decades, especially due to more technology acceptance and innovation. Eventually homebound patients and those who live in remote areas will have access equal to that enjoyed by more mobile or suburban clientele. This is an excellent time for therapists interested in expanding their opportunities to begin looking at continuing education and training in the emerging specialty. Some courses are already offered by ASHA, along with a dedicated special interest group (SIG 18) to practicing teletherapy.