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Original Research

Speech–language pathology telehealth in rural and remote schools: the experience of school executive and therapy assistants

Submitted: 29 September 2016
Revised: 10 March 2017
Accepted: 28 March 2017
Published: 17 September 2017

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Author(s) : Fairweather GC, Lincoln MA, Ramsden R.

Glenn FairweatherMichelle LincolnRobyn Ramsden

Citation: Fairweather GC, Lincoln MA, Ramsden R.  Speech–language pathology telehealth in rural and remote schools: the experience of school executive and therapy assistants. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2017; 17: 4225. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=4225 (Accessed 24 October 2017)

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  Difficulties in accessing allied health services, especially in rural and remote areas, appear to be driving the use of telehealth services to children in schools. The objectives of this study were to investigate the experiences and views of school executive staff and therapy assistants regarding the feasibility and acceptability of a speech–language pathology telehealth program for children attending schools in rural and remote New South Wales, Australia. The program, called Come N See, provided therapy interventions remotely via low-bandwidth videoconferencing, with email follow-up. Over a 12-week period, children were offered therapy blocks of six fortnightly sessions, each lasting a maximum of 30 minutes.
Methods:  School executives (n=5) and therapy assistants (n=6) described factors that promoted or threatened the program’s feasibility and acceptability, during semistructured interviews. Thematic content analysis with constant comparison was applied to the transcribed interviews to identify relationships in the data.
Results:  Emergent themes related to (a) unmet speech pathology needs, (b) building relationships, (c) telehealth’s advantages, (d) telehealth’s disadvantages, (e) anxiety replaced by joy and confidence in growing skills, and (f) supports.
Conclusions:  School executive staff and therapy assistants verified that the delivery of the school-based telehealth service was feasible and acceptable. However, the participants saw significant opportunities to enhance this acceptability through building into the program stronger working relationships and supports for stakeholders. These findings are important for the future development of allied health telehealth programs that are sustainable as well as effective and fit the needs of all crucial stakeholders. The results have significant implications for speech pathology clinical practice relating to technology, program planning and teamwork within telehealth programs.

Key words: Australia, principal, rural, school, speech–language pathology, telehealth, therapy assistant.

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