Technology has undoubtedly improved many aspects of our lives, from state-of-the-art surgeries that drastically lower patient recovery time to devices that make our daily activities more entertaining, productive, or efficient. There are a plethora of applications, products, and services that prove to us we are living in an era of innovation. Advances in technology have especially made an impact in the medical field, particularly in terms of the way we access health-related services. Particularly, telemedicine is an up-and-coming concept that has the potential to revolutionize the way we view medical care.
Broadly speaking, telemedicine (also known as telehealth) refers to the use of technological tools within medical treatment. This general definition includes computer programs that create home exercise programs (HEPs) for patients, shared portals for electronic medical records (EMRs), and secure messaging systems where patients can communicate with their therapists or healthcare providers. Telemedicine has now been used with a variety of populations, health disciplines, and diagnoses. Disciplines such as nursing, medicine, pharmacy, psychiatry, and psychology are all able to provide a variety of medical and mental health care for individuals without seeing them in person.
Telemedicine’s initial “claim to fame” was as a healthcare solution for individuals living in rural areas who did not have convenient, quality ways to receive care. The majority of telemedicine used in these instances consisted of remote patient monitoring, which involves tracking basic vital signs (such as blood pressure, heart rate, and blood glucose levels). These statistics are then sent back to their medical doctor or nurse, who video conference with the patient to discuss the findings and make recommendations, as needed. While remote patient monitoring is useful, this is just one of the applications of telemedicine. With more and more disciplines such as rehabilitation therapies getting on board with telemedicine, there are now more applications of this technology than ever.
When used within the therapy world, these services are called teletherapy. Teletherapy involves therapists providing care virtually over a computer platform. Speech therapists are one of the first rehabilitation professionals to get involved in providing virtual services for patients, since they can effectively provide speech and language-based services to a variety of populations without the need for hands-on care. Physical therapists have also joined the ranks of teletherapists by treating patients with musculoskeletal (muscles, bones, and joints) injuries using therapeutic exercise programs, joint protection strategies, and other select interventions. Occupational therapists are also an integral part of the teletherapy movement, as our profession can provide virtual care in the areas of both physical and mental health rehabilitation to pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients with a variety of clinical concerns and diagnoses.
The field of occupational therapy is versatile in that our telehealth interventions can be used to deliver fall prevention strategies, safety interventions, health education, and cognitive rehabilitation to elderly individuals or at-risk individuals who have disabilities and are living within their homes. Occupational therapists can also use telehealth in school-based therapies and outpatient clinics to assist children who have fine motor concerns; difficulty writing, reading, or learning; visual-motor deficits; difficulty assisting with self-care (such as dressing, eating, and grooming); trouble managing their emotions or behaviors, and more.
Many children can benefit from teletherapy services, and most aspects of teletherapy are not all that different from traditional therapies. Children in both types of therapy complete evaluations, participate in games, activities, and tests, and receive feedback about the work they do. Teletherapy applications contain games to strengthen a child’s ability to see, write, learn, express emotion, communicate, behave in a socially appropriate manner, and more. Therapists can see children at all times during the session to provide guidance. Some schools or outpatient clinics have an “e-helper”, usually a teaching assistant, present to assist with tasks and manage technology as needed. Teletherapy sessions still involve teachers, parents, and guardians throughout the therapy process to get information on a child’s performance during classes, after-school programs, and within their homes. Parents and teachers also receive recommendations to be incorporated and practiced outside of therapy sessions to continue to strengthen the child’s skills while enhancing their long-term learning and performance.
In many ways, teletherapy is not all that different from traditional therapies. With the rise of telemedicine, there may soon be a day when all people are receiving medical services virtually. Until then, this concept may be difficult for some children to grasp, especially those living with disabilities and those who are accustomed to traditional school-based therapy or outpatient rehab.
Why is there a person in my computer? is a child’s guide to understanding what teletherapy is and how it can help with a variety of medical concerns. This story follows Andrew, a child with visual deficits who is having difficulty playing hockey, performing well in school, and working on his art. He meets a therapist named Brittany who guides him through his first teletherapy session, and he loves it! This picture book helps children understand what teletherapy is, what makes it different from other therapies, and how it can help them live better lives. Children may also enjoy the supplemental activity guide complete with coloring pages, fact sheets, and more!
Brittany Ferri is an occupational therapist, author, and teletherapy professional. She is passionate about education, health promotion, and disease prevention for all. For more information, visit her company’s website at www.simplicityofhealth.com