ASHA defines telepractice as, “The application of telecommunications technology to deliver professional services at a distance by linking clinician to client, or clinician to clinician for assessment, intervention, and/or consultation.” Keep in mind that telepractice is a service delivery model. It does not change our scope of practice as speech-language pathologists (SLPs). If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you may consider this repetitive. However, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have comprehensive telepractice training. According to ASHA, the “use of telepractice must be equivalent to the quality of services provided in person.” This is also written into many state regulations regarding telepractice service delivery. Not only are you doing your clients a disservice, but you are also potentially violating state laws if you do not provide services that are equivalent to in-person. So how do you make sure that your services are equivalent to in person?
Speech-language pathologists are experts in communication. So let’s start there. The same methods that you were using in your in-person intervention model remains the same. What is changing is not WHAT you’re doing, but HOW you’re doing it. As you employ the help of parents and e-helpers, the WHO may also be changing. I hope that’s a relief- you have the knowledge and skills to be a great SLP, so let’s talk about the technology.
So what technology do you need to successfully provide services via telepractice? At a minimum, you need a computer, webcam, headset, high-speed internet connection, and videoconferencing platform. Some clinicians also use a second computer monitor and document camera. Let’s examine each of these a little more closely.
- Computer- For optimal results, both the clinician and client should use a laptop or desktop computer. This excludes Chromebooks, iPads, and mobile phones. If both people are using a computer, whether Mac or PC, there are more opportunities for sharing of materials and client interaction.
- Webcam- I always recommend using a webcam that plugs into the computer instead of an internal webcam, but this is not always an option for clients. Whichever webcam you choose, be sure that there is enough lighting in the room so there is a clear view of the client and clinician.
- Headset- Using a headset with a boom microphone is best for the clinician for a number of reasons. First of all, using a headset helps you hear the client’s voice clearly, which is especially important when working on articulation. Secondly, the boom mic enhances the quality of your sound. Finally, using a headset eliminates the extraneous background noise that can be distracting for the client and may reduce your sound quality.
- High-speed internet connection- How much speed do you need? It depends on what you will be sharing during your session, but 4mbps upload and download speed is what I’ve seen as the highest recommended by videoconferencing platforms. When it comes to internet speed, there is no such thing as too fast- www.speedtest.net is a great site to check internet speeds for you and your clients. If you are concerned about your internet connection, your internet service provider can help you troubleshoot.
- Videoconferencing platform- There are many options for video conferencing platforms, and it is important to select one that best suits your needs and budget. If you are an employee, you have probably been provided an account by your employer. Which platform you use depends on a few factors: your business model, the clients you will be serving, and your budget. If you are looking for help selecting an appropriate platform for your practice, check out my new course, Technology in Telepractice. When choosing a platform, be sure that it is HIPAA complaint and you have a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the company. There are several platforms that offer a BAA for no additional cost.
Murphy’s law states that “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” In telepractice, you rely on the technology to be able to provide services to your clients. When technology malfunctions, not only can it be frustrating, but it can also keep you from connecting with your clients. Sometimes the root of the problems may be resolved with a few simple steps:
- Log out of the platform and log back in. My mantra is, “When in doubt, log out.” Sometimes simply logging out and logging back into your room will fix the issue. This can be done by you (the clinician) or your client (if the problem appears to be on their end).
- Use a different browser. Most videoconferencing platforms specify which browser and versions are compatible. Be sure that your browser is the most updated version. If it is, you may consider trying a different browser to see if that resolves the issues.
- Restart your computer. I restart my computer every day that I will be using a videoconferencing platform, whether I’m conducting individual telepractice sessions or teaching my college course of over 10 students.
On April 10th, I’ll be launching a Technology in Telepractice
course for those who need further support with technology and
troubleshooting. This course includes lessons, handouts, and video
demonstrations. If you enroll now, you will receive the introductory
pricing of $25.
Click here for more information.