Speech-Language Telepractice 101 University of Maine faculty share tips for developing a telepractice training program. Academic Edge
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Academic Edge  |   January 01, 2016
Speech-Language Telepractice 101
Author Notes
  • Judy P. Walker, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor and coordinator of the Speech Therapy Telepractice program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Maine. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 18, Telepractice. judy.perkins.walker@umit.maine.edu
    Judy P. Walker, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor and coordinator of the Speech Therapy Telepractice program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Maine. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 18, Telepractice. judy.perkins.walker@umit.maine.edu×
  • MaryBeth B. Richards, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical supervisor and adjunct lecturer in the Speech Therapy Telepractice program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Maine. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders; and 18, Telepractice. mary_richards@umit.maine.edu
    MaryBeth B. Richards, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical supervisor and adjunct lecturer in the Speech Therapy Telepractice program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Maine. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders; and 18, Telepractice. mary_richards@umit.maine.edu×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   January 01, 2016
Speech-Language Telepractice 101
The ASHA Leader, January 2016, Vol. 21, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.21012016.36
The ASHA Leader, January 2016, Vol. 21, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.21012016.36
Are today’s graduate students in communication sciences and disorders prepared to provide treatment in the rapidly growing telepractice setting?
In Maine—with its rural geography, shortage of qualified speech-language pathologists, inadequate/costly transportation and inclement weather—people who need speech-language treatment face significant access challenges. The University of Maine’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders developed a graduate-level telepractice training program in 2010 to help students develop skills for providing remote services.
The program includes three learning components: intensive training, a clinical practicum and discussion groups. These complementary activities conform with ASHA guidance on knowledge and skills of speech-language pathologists in providing telepractice services and with federal privacy, health technology and electronic health information regulations.
The idea of starting a similar program could be daunting for academic programs, given the abundance of technology and teaching methods. But it can be done! Everything we do in our program is freely available online in the “University of Maine Speech Therapy Telepractice and Technology Program Manual.” The manual provides the specific how-tos of our program: a detailed outline and description of the program design, operational procedures, technology, equipment, and the forms we use for training clinical competencies in speech-language telepractice. It also provides procedures and accompanying forms for outcomes measures regarding the telepractice practicum itself, e-helper competencies, supervisors and consumer satisfaction.
We have learned several lessons over the years and offer tips for other academic programs considering telepractice training.
Check your infrastructure. Be certain that you and your remote sites have solid equipment and Internet access to support a high-quality telepractice program.
Learn regulations and reimbursement guidelines. Know federal and state rules and regulations governing telepractice. Top-notch telepractice programs provide secure, regulation- and HIPAA-compliant telepractice services. Each state has its own telepractice reimbursement guidelines.
Be patient. Starting a telepractice program requires careful planning. We spent a couple of years building our framework, experimenting with the technology, developing our clinical operational plan and training procedures, writing our training manual, and creating a strategy for future sustainability of the program. We then piloted the program with a few graduate students and clients to make sure it actually worked.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Infusing a telepractice program into a graduate curriculum can be tricky. We tried to capitalize on existing clinic operations to make the infusion as smooth and easy as possible. Essentially, we created another branch in our onsite training center. Referrals, billing, student scheduling and clock hours are managed in the same way as all of our on-campus clinical programs.
Think beyond just sitting in front of a computer. Telepractice programs require different skill sets in training and delivery, practicum evaluations, supervision, and digital paperwork than in-person training. Second-year students are ideally suited for telepractice training as they already have an understanding of clinical procedures and have experience with an in-person speech therapy model. However, some first-year graduate students have enrolled in our telepractice program with successful outcomes.

Telepractice programs require different skill sets in training and delivery, practicum evaluations, supervision, and digital paperwork than in-person training.

Dispel suspicions and myths. You may find that you have to “sell” your telepractice program to students, faculty, other professionals and potential clients. We were surprised at the negative reactions we first encountered from potential partners. Some people were suspicious—even fearful—of the technology, questioning how we could deliver high-quality, interactive speech-language treatment from a distance. We found that the best way to market the program was to have consumers try it—they are quickly hooked.
Don’t be intimidated by the digital “natives.” Your students will learn the technology more quickly than the faculty. The vast majority of our students are digital natives, having grown up with technology. In contrast, most of our faculty are digital “immigrants.”
Our telepractice program has produced excellent outcomes. More than 90 percent of our clients have made progress toward their goals and agreed or strongly agreed with satisfaction-related questions on a survey. Their comments reflect a high degree of enjoyment, ease of accessibility and improvement in quality of life as a result of our services.
In addition, the telepractice program has attracted potential graduate students because of the extra skill set they will acquire in graduate school and the improved marketability it gives them. In some instances, our graduate students were hired over other potential candidates because of their telepractice experience and knowledge. Employers understand that telepractice is growing as a cost-effective and efficient way to provide high-quality services for people who need speech-language treatment.

In some instances, our graduate students were hired over other potential candidates because of their telepractice experience and knowledge.

If your program is interested in starting telepractice training like ours, we can help. Check out the training model and our website or contact us directly.
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January 2016
Volume 21, Issue 1