European Speech and Language Therapy Association (ESLA) will be celebrating European Day of Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) on 6 March 2021. The aim of this annual event is to raise awareness of communication and swallowing disorders, and the role of speech and language therapists (SLTs). The theme for 2021’s day is Telepractice and digital technologies in Speech and Language Therapy. On this day, speech and language therapists across Europe will join together to organise workshops, training sessions, media coverage and conferences to publicise how telepractice has been adopting into the role of SLTs.
Norma Camilleri, President of ESLA, said that 2020 challenged all professionals to continue rendering their services in a novel way (for most), while still abiding by their codes of practice and codes of ethics. “Our profession of Speech and Language Therapy was no exception to this. We felt an obligation towards our various client groups of individuals with communication and swallowing disorders. We wanted to do our utmost to ensure that our clients and patients continue to receive the intervention they require and not add on to their vulnerability, which may have already been present before the start of the pandemic. I am pleased to say that ESLA was in the forefront to encourage SLTs all over Europe to make use of Telepractice in the best interests of our clients”.
SLT Telepractice is an aspect of Telehealth that is the delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance. Telehealth uses technology for the exchange of information for diagnosis, treatment, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health professionals. Telehealth can contribute to achieving universal health coverage by improving access for patients to quality, cost-effective, health services wherever they may be. It is particularly valuable for those in remote areas, vulnerable groups and ageing populations (WHO, 2016).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing to limit contagion, people presenting communication and swallowing disorders became another population for which Telepractice may be particularly valuable. SLTs all over Europe have learned, or widened, their use of remote intervention. Firstly, this assured the continuity of care for current cases, and later also enabled referral and acceptance of new cases. People appreciated the safety of this treatment modality and the comfort of remaining in their own homes; although there have been some concerns to be addressed, including resources and engagement for some individuals. Telepractice may be used by SLTs for consultation, person/caregiver education, habilitative and rehabilitative intervention in direct or indirect modality, evaluation and assessment, supervision, follow-up sessions, certification. An increasing body of research is demonstrating the efficacy of this approach.
Different applications of Telepractice could guide the choice of the delivery context that may vary from videocalls to e-mails, from recorded sessions to live encounters on specific platforms. Regardless of the technology modalities, the SLTs’ main goal remains to help and guide the person to achieve their potential, through objectives that are relevant to them. Then, the intervention will be tailored to the individual: being equally as evidence-based and ethically-based as a face-to-face intervention. Indeed, Telepractice is simply a tool, a different modality to offer people the same quality of care. On a case-by-case basis, clinicians will agree together with their clients/patients the best delivery model, either remote or in person, weighing the respective opportunities and challenges that the SLTs will consider.
In some countries Telepractice may be offered through the public Health System or Health Insurance and/or through school services. In others this modality may only be available through private practice. The legal framework also varies across Europe, as does the existence of guidelines. The debate in the SLT community is on trying to define what the best use of SLT Telepractice will be as we move out of the COVID-19 emergency and into the future.
ESLA, the European Speech and Language Therapy Association (formerly known as CPLOL), is the leading organization representing the speech and language therapy profession in Europe. As the authoritative voice of the profession in Europe, ESLA supports the common interests of thirty-one associations with a total of forty-thousand members across twenty-nine countries. Through its actions, ESLA aims to increase the visibility and awareness of Speech Language Therapy, by actively promoting the profession, and safeguarding professional and educational standards.