Telehealth solutions for patients with voice disorders
By: Ally Helsel, Meredith Schoppe, & Jennifer Goldsmith
It seems that the word ‘unprecedented’ has become the buzzword of 2020; it has dominated news cycles and has touched every aspect of day-to-day functioning and even healthcare. However, with unprecedented times comes an opportunity for clinicians to attempt things we have never done before, such as teletherapy. Telepractice is the utilization of communicating with others over a device, such as a computer or a smartphone, to treat a remote patient (ASHA, 2005). Teletherapy can help overcome many of the barriers that are associated with healthcare inequities such as time and travel burdens, cultural and language differences, and reduce the load of economic costs of treatment on patients (Grillo Elizabeth U., 2019). Together, these all can improve the Quality of Life for our patients and their caregivers.
Along with the many benefits of telehealth, a clinician must know and execute effective voice therapy to our patients. Though doctors have used telehealth to treat varying disorders, recent research has emerged on the efficacy of speech pathologists using this treatment to help patients who have voice disorders. Scientists have researched several populations with voice difficulties including, Parkinson’s disease, muscle tension dysphonia, paradoxical vocal dysfunction, and head and neck cancer (Grillo Elizabeth U., 2019). Highlights of these studies show that patients have equal or higher rates of satisfaction while using telehealth for voice therapy instead of going to treatment in person; the outcomes from treatment are the same, but the patients have a more flexible treatment session and save money on external costs, such as gas and travel time (Grillo Elizabeth U., 2019). A specific example of reducing burdens is for patients receiving LSVT in their home environment. This time-intensive therapy requires patients to receive treatment four times a week for four weeks and shows comparable outcomes to traditional methods (Grillo Elizabeth U., 2019). Another recent study performed by a head and neck cancer speech pathologist compared conventional care (in-person appointments) to telehealth treatment (online consultations). Researchers found that the length and number of session services were notably reduced, and those voice clients and therapists reported higher satisfaction service rates in the teleservice environment (Burns et al., 2017).
Unprecedented times can often be a catalyst for innovative approaches to routine activities. With reduced ability to treat patients in person, we as clinicians should examine ways that make treatment as accessible, especially voice patients who are immunocompromised. When deciding if delivering voice treatments via telehealth is a good option for you and your patients, check state and federal licensure laws, assess reimbursement policies, and ensure that patients have the tools necessary to participate in therapy (device, good internet connection).
Burns, C. L., Ward, E. C., Hill, A. J., Kularatna, S., Byrnes, J., & Kenny, L. M. (2017). Randomized controlled trial of a multisite speech pathology telepractice service providing swallowing and communication intervention to patients with head and neck cancer: Evaluation of service outcomes. Head & Neck, 39(5), 932–939. https://doi.org/10.1002/hed.24706
Grillo Elizabeth U. (2019). Building a Successful Voice Telepractice Program. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 4(1), 100–110. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_PERS-SIG3-2018-0014
Telepractice: Overview. (2005.). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; ASHA. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589934956§ion=Overview