What are some important factors to consider when communicating and collaborating through telepractice?
Communication is always important in our field, but there are some key points specifically related to working in a virtual environment. It is, of course, important to maintain privacy and to be HIPAA and FERPA compliant. Much of your communication in telepractice is completed through email so you want to be sure to not use a student or client’s full name. Likewise, if you are sending documents with student or client information through email as an attachment, then the documents need to be password protected. If you work with a company that has a secure online system in place, then you may be able to send documents to the school or client privately and securely that way. The bottom line is to definitely keep student privacy in mind just as you would in any therapy setting.
You can connect and collaborate with caregivers and the IEP team - if you're working with a school district - through various means in telepractice. You can speak with them face-to-face, online, over the phone or through email.
It's usually pretty easy to send materials through email for home practice and carryover. There is also a benefit to sending brief reminders or recommendations to families and clients through email. There are definitely those times that I have mentioned something to a parent at the end of a session and as soon as we part ways, they probably forgot what I said. When they have that information in an email, they can actually refer back to it later and that can really be useful.
It's always important in our field to document and keep a written communication log. This can really come into play in telepractice if you're communicating over the phone or even through text. You want to be sure to document any information in a contact log so that you can reference it later if needed. This is especially important when working at a distance to establish open lines of communication.
We are all well aware that some folks are still reticent about telepractice. You may have to take some extra time to establish rapport and get buy-in from teachers or parents that you are working with. As technology expands into really almost every aspect of our lives, people are becoming more and more used to the idea of teletherapy and are less hesitant about it. But you will still encounter resistance with some folks and that just requires you as the therapist to help bring them along and keep the lines of communication open so that they see the value and benefits of online therapy services. Once they see how it works, how the students can enjoy the sessions and make progress, then they usually get on board pretty quickly.
Please refer to the SpeechPathology.com course, Telepractice: What You Need to Know for Practical Application in Pediatrics, for more information on structuring and implementing a telepractice model, including examples for speech therapy sessions with the pediatric population.