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What Is Telepractice?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 24 May 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Telepractice is the use of telecommunications technology to meet with patients and clinicians. This can occur over the phone or with the use of text chats, video conferencing, and other technologies that permit real time remote communication. It is regulated, like other forms of medical practice, and is subject to laws concerning patient confidentiality and safety. Some medical disciplines are well suited to telepractice, while others still require in-person visits.

One potential application for this technology is in speech therapy. Speech therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other speech professionals can access patients easily through telepractice to conduct sessions, hold assessments, and check in to see how their clients are doing with a course of therapy. Patients may benefit if they live in remote areas where specialists are not available or have difficulty attending appointments for other reasons, like disabilities that make travel challenging, or demanding school schedules.

Audiologists also take advantage of telecommunications technology to keep up with their patients. Another application is in psychology and mental health services, where care providers can meet with patients through telepractice programs. A care provider may decide to switch to telepractice after seeing patients in person and determining that they are good candidates, or could offer such appointments for all patients, including new ones. This can also make it easier to access emergency sessions, as the patient and care provider do not need to meet up in the same place.

There are some disadvantages to using this technology in patient care, however. Some care providers may not be able to identify nonverbal communication, either because they are not on a video channel, or because the patient's body language may be subtle. This can be a particular concern for mental health care providers, who need to pay attention to how patients behave as much as how they speak. A patient may claim to be feeling well, but could have body language that suggests otherwise, and the therapist needs to be able to pick up on that.

Available telecommunications infrastructure can also be an issue. For example, patients in rural areas may not have the broadband Internet necessary for voice chats with video, or other technology more sophisticated than a basic phone call. Installing systems to manage telepractice can also get costly for care providers. The information needs to be encrypted and secure for safety, and the provider needs to be able to log it for future reference, which can require the installation of an expensive system that may not pay for itself in a small practice.

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