What’s Telehealth and How Does It Work in Occupational Therapy?

Guest Authored By Kaitlin Hughes, MOT, OTR/L

Most people are familiar with the standard model of pediatric occupational therapy practice: a child is seen for an evaluation, the therapist recommends a number of clinic-based sessions per week, and the parent and therapist collaborate as therapy progresses. It’s a great model for parents who have the time and resources to locate a clinic in their area, schedule weekly sessions, and provide transportation, but what about families who can’t? 

Enter telehealth! Telehealth is an emerging model of therapy practice where an occupational therapist provides services using telecommunication technology (typically interactive video technology). In the telehealth model, therapists can continue to provide evaluation, preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic services to families who face barriers that prevent them from attending traditional therapy services. Recent studies have shown that telehealth is extremely cost effective for families, including lower rates per session, no transportation costs, and no missed work for parents. More importantly, families have reported high levels of satisfaction with the efficacy of the intervention and their children’s progress!

Telehealth in occupational therapy relies primarily on parent coaching as a means to deliver effective intervention. Parent coaching is already used heavily in the field of Early Intervention therapy, and the American Assocation of Pediatrics has deemed it a “best practice method.” Coaching allows parents to be involved in the therapeutic process, including:

  • Picking the goal areas for their children 
  • Working together on solutions 
  • Finding questions for reflection and problem-solving 
  • Fostering collaboration  
  • Giving parents the confidence to implement changes 

 Child participation is obviously key in ensuring the effectiveness of telehealth therapy. Parents have reported using telehealth sessions to address the following: 

  • Social interaction 
  • Self regulation 
  • Potty training  
  • Eating 
  • Transitions 
  • Sleeping 
  • Play 
  • Safety 
  • Bathing

One study followed parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder who began participating in telehealth services. The parents reported high levels of satisfaction across all treatment areas, including acceptability, parent efficacy, and child participation. Parents reported high satisfaction with talking to an occupational therapist over video calls, and they valued the content of services provided. Parent efficacy determined that parents felt confident in carrying out strategies and problem-solving challenging situations. Finally, child participation was noted to increase in the areas of play frequency, skill development diversity, and parent identified goals. Overall, parents reported feeling more confident in their ability to meet their children’s needs and help them progress in their goals.  

Telehealth is an emerging practice area with promising potential. It can help remove barriers to traditional therapy models and provide parents with the tools to support their children’s development. If you’re interested in pursuing telehealth for your child, reach out to your current occupational therapist or pediatrician to see if telehealth is available to you!