We made online speech therapy work in our practice in Atlanta with all ages and diagnosis! The progress we have seen in only 3 weeks is simply remarkable!
Each day I wonder in this new world of COVID-19…how did we get to where we are today? The emotions that I have gone through over the past 3 weeks (is that all it has been??) have been all over the map. Fear, confusion, anxiety, anger, frustration, uncertainty…..will my family be OK? Will anyone at the office get sick? What about all of the kids at the office? Will they regress without therapy? How will my employees financially survive if we cannot continue? Through the haze I knew I had to find a solution to keep our office moving forward. Immediately (before we shut the office) I researched platforms that we could use to move to teletherapy. Yes, ‘teletherapy’…I had heard of the term and always wondered how other SLPs were able to make this mode of treatment work for their patients. In my mind it had to be older kids or adults who were successful, it couldn’t possibly work for toddlers and preschoolers. And what about kids who have autism and sensory-based issues that make it hard for them to attend…they couldn’t sit in front of a computer and accomplish their speech, language and feeding goals could they? And even if we could get kids to listen to us ‘virtually’ would their insurance plans and Georgia Medicaid reimburse us? We had NO IDEA but at that point…we just had to try.
We settled on a program that allowed us to integrate treatment materials into the same program that offered the ‘synchronous’ (yes new term too that means ‘live’) video streaming so we could seamlessly entertain and prompt our kids to interact with us. I scoured the internet to find online courses that could teach us how to make this work with all different kids. There were only a few that gave limited information for the types of kids we work with, but we watched them and took any information that might assist. All of the therapists spent hours copying materials, scanning them into the platform and searching YouTube and online education sites to give us the materials to grab our patient’s attention and teach the skills that we usually do face-to-face. We found things we had no idea existed online that would make our kids smile and even laugh and when we hit the ‘pause’ button they would look at the camera and use their words to ask for more. And guess what? They DID! The first couple of patients I worked with I had trouble making it through the session without crying…not because it was hard, but because it was working. I could help these kids while they were stuck at home and they could continue to make the progress we see at the office. Many of them did better with teletherapy than at the office because the materials we had were so dynamic. We were going to make this work! Finally, I felt the best emotions yet…relief and pure joy!
Over the past three weeks we have found great ways to keep our patients entertained and moving towards their goals. We have also evaluated new patients and ‘met’ their families in their home environment and began their process towards meeting each of their goals. We have also had great success with billing. Most of our insurance plans that paid for in-office visits are paying for teletherapy visits and many have less out of pocket requirements. For PediaSpeech we have found a silver lining during this unprecedented time at home.