How Teletherapy Can Help Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Note: I am not a public health expert, but an informed health care professional. You can find information about how you can do your part in preventing the spread of this virus by visiting the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.
In the face of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released guidelines calling for "social distancing", a conscious effort to reduce close contact between individuals in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease. This is a critical practice early in a pandemic, and is especially important for people who are at higher risk for getting severely sick (Center for Disease Control, March 10 2020). The people who are at higher risk for becoming severely ill from this virus include older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease (CDC, March 12, 2020). While a stroke or a brain injury alone does not make you susceptible to severe illness, a significant proportion of adults with a history of stroke or brain injury also have additional underlying chronic health issues (Chan et al, 2017). This means that you or your loved ones recovering from stroke or brain injury could potentially be at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to be infected with COVID-19.
Does this mean we all need to panic and buy all the toilet paper we can find?
Social distancing is indeed crucial to limiting the spread of this virus, but do you know what else is crucial? Your recovery. Although the rest of the world is seemingly grinding to a halt, your brain does not stop recovering. It needs to continue to receive important therapy services in order to continue its healing process. However, if you feel like every time you go to your therapist's office you are immediately transported to the set of a zombie apocalypse movie, please know that there is an alternative solution: teletherapy!
Teletherapy is the application of using telecommunications technology (i.e. video chat platforms) to conduct speech therapy services at a distance. This would allow clients to receive the speech therapy services they desperately need while also remaining safe in their homes without the possibility of spreading pathogens from person to person.
Sounds great in theory, but does it work?
Research points to yes, for the right people. Like all speech therapy treatment options, one size does not fit all. There may be a potential impact on the effectiveness of teletherapy for individuals with hearing loss, visual difficulties, low physical tolerance, poor computer literacy, poor caregiver support, and limited access to a computer with good internet, among other factors (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2020).
However, for those that do make good candidates for teletherapy, the research shows that it is just as effective as traditional in-person therapy (ASHA, 2020). In addition to being 100% germ free, teletherapy is also a great option for those who struggle with finding transportation to and from therapy appointments or for those who live in a more rural location. As a speech-language pathologist who has personally utilized teletherapy in her own practice, the biggest concern clients have prior to taking the plunge into teletherapy is that they fear therapy sessions will feel more cold and impersonal over the computer. However, that fear is immediately mitigated as they realize that while teletherapy may create a physical distance, it does not create an emotional one.
As we move forward as a nation into uncharted territory, I would like to say the following to the stroke and brain injury community: please stay aware, stay safe, and know your options for treatment.
-Dr. Taylor Hickok, DBH, CCC-SLP
CDC Fact Sheets about Coronavirus:
Information About Social Distancing:
Clinical Profile and Comorbidity of Tramautic Brain Injuries:
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Telepractice Overview and Pamphlet: