A doctor with a stethoscope around his neck uses a cell phone.

Occupational Therapy Student Telehealth Experiences

Author: Jake Benich, Hannah Stoll, Grace Fulton

Who We Are?

We are new occupational therapy (OT) graduates who recently completed their doctoral capstone projects involving telehealth. Our projects involved working on telehealth training for therapists, the creation of tools to help families and caregivers be successful with telehealth and the administration of telehealth for use with early intervention. The focus on telehealth for all of these projects came on suddenly in the wake of Covid-19. With telehealth as an emerging area of practice, many therapists found themselves underprepared for the quick transition to remote service delivery. We were tasked to step in to meet the organizational needs regarding the sudden implementation of telehealth and to create sustainable plans for its long-term use. Please see below for brief descriptions of our projects, results, and some tips we learned along the way.

How Do Our OT Experiences Look Like?

With the introduction of telehealth into the therapeutic world, my particular project surrounded ensuring caregivers had sufficient therapeutic materials at home to meet the needs of their children. I found that caregivers scored higher on their satisfaction with telehealth as well as a higher indication of future usage after receiving a therapeutic care package.

Headshot of Jake Benich, OTD

Jake Benich, OTD

I developed a parent coaching program for children ages 0-3 to help families meet their child’s developmental goals. My program was planned to be implemented in family homes. However, due to poor weather and quarantine protocols some sessions were switched to telehealth. Because the switch was usually last minute a lot of planning did not go into sessions and all the families I worked with used their mobile phone and the Zoom app. A huge benefit of the program focusing on parent coaching is that parents knew they were expected to be actively involved throughout the session and it provided a great opportunity to observe the family in home routines and focus on conversation and reflection.

Headshot of Hannah Stoll, OTD

Hannah Stoll, OTD

I created a series of 7 webinars designed to help therapists feel more confident when administering and planning telehealth sessions. One of the webinars was dedicated specifically to technology and how to make it work to your advantage in a session. Many times, therapists can see technology as a barrier, but it doesn’t have to be. Telehealth offers so many unique opportunities that in-person therapy doesn’t. I love that with the parent coaching model, parents can stay involved and learn how to interact in a therapeutic way with their child.

Headshot of Grace Fulton, OTD

Grace Fulton, OTD

Telehealth Tips and Tricks

  • Incorporate movement activities to minimize sedentary screen time
  • Consider if your client and family are a good fit for telehealth
  • Actively involve parents and utilize parent coaching strategies; establish preferred level of caregiver involvement ahead of time and reiterate as needed
  • Minimize material use and be creative with common household items
  • Ensure the video-conferencing service is HIPPA compliant to maintain confidentiality
  • Have a back-up plan in the event of a technology glitch
  • Be prepared to respond in unexpected scenarios, such as if the child has a behavioral outburst or if an activity is not engaging to the child
  • If possible, use a direct ethernet connection instead of WI-FI
  • Consider screen size and visual processing of the child when sharing activities via the screen
  • If performing telehealth for prolonged periods, consider your own posture, ensure breaks and stretches are performed, and research proper ergonomic set-ups for your computer

Interestingly, many clinical programs require minimal training in telehealth. We do anticipate that to change in the near future. This is an area where further research and the development of standardized protocols is absolutely necessary. It is difficult to train students in an area of practice that has yet to be thoroughly explored. With Covid-19, new research is being performed and we believe standards for telehealth will continue to be established.

In our program, we did a telehealth simulation with a fellow classmate over Zoom. It was very helpful, but everything was set up in an ideal way with minimal uncontrollable variables. We think it would be a great option to practice telehealth in a low-threat environment with real patients, while ensuring students get exposure to several different web-conference services. Furthermore, it is essential to work with real families gaining exposure to socio-economic factors and cultural diversity that greatly impacts the delivery of telehealth services.

CIDDL seeks to support technology use in related services for students with disabilities, families, and professionals. Have ideas for how we can help? Reach out here, or sign up for our newsletter here.