More than 100 professionals throughout the United States and Canada participated in the TeleHealth Meeting, a pre-conference workshop held prior to the the Ninth Annual Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Conference in Chicago.
Telepractice services are increasingly being used to deliver audiological and speech-language assessment and treatment services to children and adults who otherwise would be underserved. Telepractice services are being explored in a variety of settings to provide a cost-effective and efficient mechanism for providing audiological and early intervention services to children with hearing loss who are identified through EHDI programs.
The Feb. 28 workshop featured seven invited speakers involved in a variety of telehealth projects and support services. Topics included international collaboration; coordinating, providing, and evaluating telepractice services; and resources and support available through one of the five national telehealth resource centers funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Tim Patterson, of the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program at the University of Toronto, opened the workshop by addressing participants from his office using two-way videoconference equipment and demonstrating how telepractice services could be delivered in rural and remote areas around the world. He also discussed the use of telehealth practices as a means of promoting greater economic stability in developing countries and as a way to foster improved cross-cultural understanding, especially in the Middle East. Telehealth is a mechanism to address the basic need for the availability of health care services. Regardless of the amount of aid a developing country may receive, if health services are not available economic sustainability is negatively affected.
Presenters Neil Scharpe, Steve Peterson, and Tom Froelich of Minot State University explored audiology telepractice and demonstrated how a child could receive a complete audiological evaluation through the use of videoconferencing equipment and desktop-sharing software. They also discussed new protocols for complete audiological diagnostics through tele-audiology that are in development as part of a contract with the HRSA.
The provision of early intervention services through telepractice was discussed by staff from Utah State University (USU). Two-way videoconferencing was used to connect USU staff and conference
participants with Spencer and Nancy Guthrie and their son, Alex, who is 19 months old and has a severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss and bilateral cochlear implants. The Guthries shared their experiences with telehealth and explained how the services have enhanced their parenting skills and increased their confidence in facilitating listening and spoken language with Alex.
Kathleen Watts, program manager of the North Carolina EHDI Program, presented the NC TeleAudiology Pilot Project, which is underway in partnership with the TeleMedicine Program at East Carolina University. The goal of this project, which is in the planning stage, is to investigate the feasibility of telehealth practices to deliver infant audiological diagnostic evaluations in rural areas of eastern and southern North Carolina.
The Marian Downs Hearing Center at the University of Colorado (UC) Hospital provides a range of services through a telehealth model. UC's Sandra Abbott Gabbard discussed the use of telehealth to provide early intervention audiological services and individual speech and language intervention to children with hearing loss. Gabbard also outlined the use of tele-education to improve the training of practicing audiologists. Through didactic and clinical mentoring using videoconferencing, continuing education will be provided that is aimed at skill-building in areas of Colorado that are underserved.
Dena Puskin, director of the HRSA Office of Advancement of Telehealth, presented key policy considerations for tele-audiology and addressed common challenges in initiating comprehensive telepractice services, which include securing reimbursement for services, building an appropriate technological infrastructure, and dealing with professional credentialing issues.
The final presentation was provided by Catherine Britain of the Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center (NRTRC), one of a network of one national and four regional centers funded by HRSA to help state maternal and child health programs effectively implement telehealth services. Britain discussed the range of services that are provided as part of NRTRC and provided information about technical assistance services offered by NRTRC to state EHDI programs implementing telepractice programs.
"This is an exciting time to be in the field and serve young children with hearing loss and their families," said conference participant Teresa Caraway, a speech-language pathologist in Oklahoma City, Okla. "Telehealth can be used to help more children with hearing loss and their families obtain the services they need to be successful."
The workshop provided an important forum for audiologists, SLPs, and early interventionists administering programs or providing direct services to young children with hearing loss and their families. Based on information presented by programs across the country, telepractice is clearly emerging as a viable service delivery model to meet the audiological diagnostic and early intervention needs of this population. Professionals will require continued training, information sharing, and networking to prepare to implement successful telehealth programs. For more information about the workshop, visit EHDI Conference Web site.