Telemedicine: Applying it to the Special Needs Population

 
There are several rural and underserved communities in the world, particularly in developing countries that suffer from limited access to specialty mental health services. This often results in parents/caregivers of the special needs community struggling to recruit specialized service providers for their children. It also takes its toll on families financially, who must arrange regular visits by a specialized consultant, such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), speech therapist or even a developmental pediatrician. The lack of services and resources in their local community naturally results in high travel expenses. While the need to support this population is great, the reality is a large number of “non-mental health providers” with little or no specialty support in the position of serving children with severe developmental and intellectual disorders as well as those with emotional and behavioral disorders.
 
These factors often reduce the quality of mental health services available to patients in rural and underserved communities, sometimes forcing parents and caregivers to travel long distances to obtain these services, or the grim alternative of forgoing such services altogether. Telemental Health, a subspecialty of telemedicine, is the provision of mental health services using live, interactive videoconferencing technology. This probably brings you to the question – what is telemedicine anyway? Telemedicine is the umbrella term for all health care services that are provided using communication networks. Technically it is the practice of delivering medical and other health care services from one geographical location to another. This provides a viable alternative for families who live in developing countries and rural and underserved areas that unfortunately do not have direct access to quality health care services.. Telemental health, sometimes referred to as “online therapy” or “remote consulting,” can be used to provide services to a wide range of individuals around the world. Some of these services, which can be delivered to the special needs population include but are not limited to the following:
 
• Applied Behavior Analysis:
- Behavioral Consultations;
- Behavioral Assessments;
- Intensive Behavioral Intervention Treatment/Therapy; 
- Social Skills Training
• Parent/Caregiver Training 
• Special Education Tutoring
• Speech-Language Therapy 
• Psychotherapy 
• Social Work
 
Telemedicine opens a whole new door of possibilities as an alternative therapy platform for clients who suffer from developmental disorders. The benefits and implications of using telemedicine are wide and varied by increasing access to care in rural areas” and the larger special needs population. This will also help to improve the quality of healthcare for the special needs population, reduce travel time and other stressors for the families across the globe. However it is imperative that special measures are taken to ensure that a solid model and infrastructure is developed before this can be implemented. Providers must ensure that they learn how to adapt the face-to-face model and translate it using video-conferencing technology with proper video-conferencing etiquette. It is also important that providers develop cultural competence, because it is crucial in understanding that a client’s cultural background can often shape their beliefs on mental health and the types of services they will be willing to use. Fortunately there has been a steady increase in practitioners modifying their face to face format of delivery and applying it to the telemedicine model. One program in particular that Special Learning is in the process of developing is the SL Virtual Consultation and Assessment Program (SL V-CAT).
 

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