Tips for Providing Occupational Therapy Via Telehealth
A version of this article was written and published for Simplepractice.com by Reina Olivera, DrOT, OTR/L
Occupational therapy via Telehealth. Yes, you read that right. It sounds completely out of the ordinary, but many occupational therapists are turning to it.
You may be thinking, “How am I supposed to oversee a therapy session with a child on the other side of the computer screen?”
The key is occupation-based coaching, also referred to as “parent-coaching”.
Rather than focusing on directing each intervention and doing the activity with the child, consider using a parent-coaching model.. To learn how to use this effectively, first you’ll need to understand the concept.
What is occupation-based coaching?
Occupation-based coaching provides interventions that include working directly with caregivers. Doing this, it becomes possible to create strategies useful for helping the child participate in daily activities. This intervention model focuses on improving the parent-child interaction. It also creates child-learning opportunities within the child’s routine and contexts.
While useful for children and their parents, it is also useful for caregivers for people of all ages. This option for occupational therapy via Telehealth makes it possible to adapt sessions for patient needs in many scenarios.
Why does parent coaching work well with Telehealth?
Occupational therapy via Telehealth is a “hands-off” approach, there’s no question about it.
The sessions with occupational therapists are conducted using only verbal and visual communication. During these sessions, parents take the “hands-on” approach while the occupational therapist acts as an observer. This doesn’t mean that the therapist isn’t responsible for teaching; it’s actually the opposite.
In order for the parent to effectively help the patient, the occupational therapist must be successful.
Parents actively participating in these sessions improves child outcomes. Additionally, it increases parent competence – even virtually. This is especially true when occupational therapists and clients work with the same materials.
That way, you’re able to work on the same activity “together” even though you’re not in the same room. In cases where parents are limited with their tools, it is often easier for occupational therapists to suggest modifications with everyday items. For example:
- Use stuffed animals instead of bean bags for a tossing activity
- Utilize an office chair to provide vestibular input
- Place long rolled up towels on the floor as a balance beam
- Squeeze Play-Doh instead of therapy putty for hand strengthening
- Line up dining room chairs to crawl through instead of a tunnel
These are only a few of the modifications possible with some creativity and discussion with your occupational therapy professional.
Is parent coaching effective?
Yes. Parent coaching is effective for many reasons.
It results in children meeting goals and participating in their occupations.
Parent coaching using occupational therapy via Telehealth also yields increased satisfaction from the parent’s perspective and better parent-child relationships.
The occupational therapist is only present for a limited time of the day, however the parent is there most of the time. So caregivers and parents receive effective coaching, they’re able to apply those learned tools and skills outside of the designated session time.
Occupational therapy sessions are focused on the time with the therapy professional, but that doesn’t mean they end when the camera turns off. Telehealth sessions are proof that learning and recovery does not have to be traditional.
Strategies for Occupation-Based Coaching via Telehealth
1. Work with the parent/caregiver/guardian to establish realistic goals.
Start with the evaluation process. The occupation-based coaching model relies on regular collaboration between the occupational therapist and the parent. That includes establishing mutual goals. Parents can identify goals that will impact the child’s daily routine and are meaningful to their family.
Each patient’s life is unique – narrowing down specifics is important.
2. Focus on the parent-child relationship.
Even providing occupational therapy via Telehealth, it’s necessary to support the relationship between the caregiver and the child. Ask the caregiver for insights into the child’s behaviors. It’s important to help both the parent and child better understand each other. This understanding fosters a stronger connection – and more success with a therapy program over time.
Observation is key in occupational therapy, but it’s the most important component of Telehealth sessions.
- Observe how the parent and child interact.
- Take a good look at the child’s home environment and context.
This observation helps identify new and impactful intervention options. You may not physically be in the room with them, but that doesn’t mean that Telehealth makes you any less involved.
4. Provide feedback.
Once you’ve observed the environment and context, have a conversation with the caregiver. Talk about the effectiveness of the strategies used during the sessions. Engage in problem-solving with the caregiver. Help build their overall knowledge of the situation. That way, they can better identify what’s working and what’s not.
Feedback is crucial to making progress, and as an occupational therapist, you are qualified to give it.
What Parents Think of Occupation-Based Coaching
Parents appreciate having interventions occur in the child’s natural environment. This is why occupational therapy via Telehealth is so popular – and useful.
Why is this true, though?
During the Telehealth therapy sessions, they feel like they’re able to establish a partnership with the occupational therapist. This means they can truly collaborate with them. Feeling this way gives the caregiver or parent more confidence in developing their own strategies to help their child.
For many parents, two of the most common findings after utilizing occupation-based coaching are:
- A changed perspective of the behavior of their child
- An emphasis on new and existing strengths
Now pair those benefits with Telehealth. Parents are able to reduce travel time, which is essential for travel with little ones. It also offers greater flexibility, especially with scheduling.
Occupational therapy via Telehealth has also shown to increase focus on the entire family. This enriches the experience and improves the outcomes for everyone involved.
Plus, with the caregiver being the one to use a “hands-on” approach, they’re naturally more engaged during sessions. Not only is this helpful for patients, but it helps the parents, too.
Though there isn’t direct, hands-on support from occupational therapists, by doing the actions and helping to perform the exercises, parents aren’t just watching from the sidelines.
Who offers occupational therapy via Telehealth?
Plenty of platforms and clinics offer Telehealth as part of their covered services, but few do it as seamlessly as the BetterTelehealth platform.
The BetterTelehealth platform allows patients and providers to connect almost effortlessly. There’s no need to download any new software, and no need to buy any new equipment. The only thing patients (and their caregivers) need is the time for the session, an Internet connected device, and the ability to go online.
The service is performed directly through the BetterTelehealth application. Sessions are safe, secure and focused on the needs of clients. Since patients “attend” sessions from the location of their choice, it’s customizable.
To find out more about this offering, or to begin implementing it with your clients and their caregivers, consider adding BetterTelehealth to your practice.
Occupational therapy via Telehealth is an underutilized mode that complements real life. By using it, patients receive treatment in real scenarios the way it is today, not how it was yesterday, or could be tomorrow.
Considering offering this to your patients – and your staff? Be ready for some amazing results!
Whether you are looking to start your own telehealth OT practice or incorporate a telehealth solution into your practice for the long term, you want to choose a platform that not only meets your needs, but is equipped to grow with your practice.
Want to learn more now?
Dr. Reina Olivera and Marla Ranieri, chief development officer at BetterTelehealth held a live webinarto discuss the key factors you need to consider when choosing a telehealth platform. Click here to watch the presentation.
Dr. Reina M. Olivera is a doctor of occupational therapy and the owner of Telehealth OT Services. She learned about Telehealth while trying to find a solution to poor parent carryover in an outpatient clinic. Now she enjoys helping others implement Telehealth services in their practice.