Online Speech Therapy: The Biggest Advantages for Speech-Language PathologistsLeanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP
Let’s start by getting this out of the way: just like teletherapy isn’t perfect for every client, it’s not a great fit for every speech-language pathologist (SLP). We all have different working styles, skill sets, and preferences, and virtual service delivery doesn’t hit those high notes for everyone. That’s perfectly fine!
However, for SLPs considering the switch to teletherapy, or who want to supplement their existing caseload with online care, let’s cover some of its many advantages.
First, a quick note about my background. Before starting Expressable, I spent my career working in a variety of settings, including pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Over time I become frustrated by many of the limitations when providing conventional, in-person care. Once I discovered virtual speech therapy, I didn’t look back.
Improved access to care for clients
While everyone became an SLP for different reasons, it ultimately comes back to the joy, excitement, and pride we experience when helping others. Whether it’s hearing a client say their first word, nail that pesky /r/ sound, overcome a fluency disorder, or regain their ability to communicate basic needs, the sense of accomplishment is unmatched. The work we do has life-changing potential, and the more people in need that have access to quality services, the better.
While all SLPs deserve to be compensated fairly, the truth is our services can be out of reach for many Americans. We’ve all dealt with heartbreak of insurance coverage denials and the painful cycle of re-authorizations. What’s more, out-of-pocket therapy costs can be unattainably expensive, and many of us have watched families struggle financially and make personal sacrifices to afford services. While 44 million Americans are eligible for speech-language pathology services in the United States, nearly 45% of eligible children aged 3-17 are not receiving treatment.
Teletherapy can drastically reduce costs, helping reach more patients and expanding caseloads. At Expressable, for example, we don’t have to pay many of the typical expenses required to keep physical practices and clinics operational, such as rent, utilities, office supplies, furniture, overhead and administrative fees. Telepractices can pass these cost savings down to their patients, while still paying SLPs a generous salary, so more families can access quality care.
No more commuting (hooray!)
I live in Austin, Texas, and like many metropolitan cities around the country, traffic moves at a snail's pace. When working in home health, I can’t tell you how many times I’d drive 45 minutes to a client’s house only to realize they weren’t home or had canceled their appointment. Additionally, this commuting time needlessly fills your calendar, preventing you from treating more patients.
You got into speech therapy to spend quality time with patients and focus on their progress, not spend mindless hours sitting in a car. To me, this is one of the biggest lifestyle advantages of online speech therapy.
With online speech therapy, you often have greater control over your schedule and a wider range of appointment times. For example, many of the SLPs at Expressable have young children and prefer to schedule sessions around daycare or nap time. Others would prefer to break up their week by not working certain days. Some aren’t morning people, so prefer to set their availability starting at noon and don’t mind working evenings. These scheduling advantages also extend to families that have busy school and work schedules.
Whatever you prefer, teletherapy gives you greater flexibility in prioritizing your commitments and shaping your work week. This sense of freedom not only leads to peace of mind, but ensures you never lose sight of work-life balance.
Reduce your risk of illness
Let’s face it: going into an office everyday and working with kiddos can put SLPs at higher risk for getting sick. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this risk, with consequences that can potentially be more severe. Not only does teletherapy reduce your exposure to illness, but it also protects your patients.
Improve your relationships with clients
I’m passionate about the role parents and caregivers play in reinforcing lessons and best practices at home to improve progress. This isn’t just born from my own experiences and observations. Research also supports the importance of parent involvement in reaching clinical goals.
Unfortunately, when I practiced speech therapy in alternative settings, this was one of my biggest pain points. In schools, my interactions with parents were extremely limited, usually for an hour or so during their annual IEP meeting. In a clinic, I saw parents briefly for a few minutes in the lobby after the session.
Teletherapy makes building and cultivating relationships with parents much easier. Because there’s more flexibility in appointment scheduling, parents and caregivers can more easily join the sessions alongside their child or loved ones. This makes it easier to engage and educate them so they can continue promoting speech and language goals at home throughout the week.
Comforts of home
My fridge, my music, my bathroom, my temperature controls, my workspace. Not trying to sound overly possessive here, but practicing therapy in a comfortable environment matters - both for you and your clients. As long as you’re able to stay focused and discourage distraction, you should revel in this increased flexibility: take an afternoon walk, do some mid-morning yoga, grab a snack, cuddle your dog.
Scope of care
As you know, speech therapy covers a very wide scope of care, including many diagnoses and ages. Everyone has clinical specialities as well as preferred populations they feel more comfortable and knowledgeable treating. Online speech therapy provides more flexibility in shaping your caseload to be as wide or narrow in scope as you’d like. By breaking down geographic limitations, this also ensures clients are paired with a speech therapist best suited to their needs.
With every new and innovative model of care, questions naturally arise about its effectiveness. Teletherapy is no different.
Yes, there are certain conditions that may benefit from the tactile interaction of in-person care, such as swallowing. And yes, transitioning to teletherapy requires an adjustment period for some SLPs.
However, a mound of research has shown that online speech therapy can be just as effective as traditional, in-person care. In fact, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has recognized teletherapy as a valid means of service delivery for speech therapy disorders based on a strong body of evidence.
It’s our job as SLPs to be informed on how to effectively practice teletherapy, as well as educate our patients on expectations. Performed correctly, online speech therapy is a powerful tool in maintaining quality of care while expanding access to more families.