FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers was one of the first providers of teletherapy services for children in Southwest Florida, beginning with speech therapy and later expanding to occupational therapy, ABA therapy and physical therapy.
Teletherapy is the delivery of a wide range of therapy services using telecommunications technology to connect therapists to clients. Our speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapies are essential for children with special needs and developmental delays. Teletherapy is one more way we can be sure to reach them where they are.
Teletherapy has allowed our team to stay connected and keep our clients learning and engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's also useful in other situations too.
For instance, a child with cold symptoms or a low-grade fever might not be able to attend an in-clinic therapy session, but they can still participate in teletherapy.
Teletherapy can also help reduce time and travel burdens for parents, something that's especially helpful for our clients who live in more remote areas. The benefits of this particular aspect were outlined in a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.
It's also proven essential for children who are immunocompromised.
What is Teletherapy, Exactly?
Teletherapy is sometimes referred to as online therapy, virtual therapy or telehealth. The goal is to meet patients' needs by meeting them where they are.
“The same diagnoses and conditions that can be treated in our clinic can be treated effectively via teletherapy,” explained Haley Ott, SLPA and program director of FOCUS’ Teletherapy Department. She conducts speech teletherapy sessions for children in Southwest Florida from her home in Michigan. “The therapy we’re offering isn’t different - the mode of delivery is.”
As FOCUS Teletherapy Department executive director Emmi MacIntyre Ring, MS/CCC-SLP explained, "It's an evidence-based and supported administration of therapy services that we've found to be extremely convenient and effective for our clients at FOCUS."
Services are administered using any electronic communication device (iPad, smartphone, laptop, etc.). The process is similar to a FaceTime call, except it's through a secure, HIPAA-compliant app. Parents type in a meeting code, the therapist appears on screen and the session starts.
Just as we do during in-clinic sessions, our therapists utilize games, exercises and other activities to target each child's therapy goals.
Although it's true screen time is typically frowned upon for young children, teletherapy is different. Most online games deprive kids of key social interaction. In teletherapy, the whole point is engaging them. In fact, FOCUS facilitates virtual group treatment so kids can work on their social skills together - even from a distance.
Telehealth itself is not new. It has been practiced for several years by doctors, nurses and therapists in other fields. However, it was just beginning to gain traction in the field of pediatric therapy when COVID-19 began sweeping the U.S. By that point, FOCUS Therapy had been offering the service to clients in Lee County for 18 months. This allowed our team to hit the ground running and continue providing these important therapies when in-clinic sessions were forced to come to halt.
FOCUS Offers Teletherapy Training to Other Therapy Clinics
The pandemic made teletherapy an imperative for virtually all Florida pediatric therapy providers. Knowing how essential these services are to kids in communities near and far, FOCUS began extending teletherapy training to assist other pediatric therapy centers and schools around the country quickly cope with abrupt changes.
"We know how vital therapy services are for these children," said FOCUS Founder Jennfer Voltz-Ronco, MC/CCC-SLP. "We have a responsibility to ensure these kids continue to receive it - not just here, but across the U.S. We're all in this together, and we'll continue to offer this service - helping other pediatric clinics on-board this technology and adapt their sessions - for as long as it's needed."