Westport native Clare McDermott (pictured) is a student at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and as part of her final year studies has been involved in providing a telehealth project which provides daily Speech and Language appointments in English and Irish.
This clinical initiative uses the HSE online platform Attend Anywhere, and is run in collaboration with therapists from the HSE West, HSE Donegal and Voices for Down Syndrome Galway.
The new service not only offers learning opportunities and the ability for students to complete their practice education training through clinical placements, but also allows clients to access health care services and therapy from the comfort and safety of their homes.
“I was apprehensive at first as I had never seen telehealth being used and knew that patients would be unsure as to how it would work for them in comparison to what they are used to,” said Clare.
“However, it’s been a unique experience as we have been able to make a difference in the lives of children and adults without putting anyone at risk. It’s been a great opportunity to learn how to problem solve and adapt traditional therapy techniques to an online format. I’m grateful to everyone who has taken part in therapy as it has shown to us just how beneficial telehealth can be,” she added.
Laura Loftus, Practice Education Coordinator, Speech and Language Therapy at NUI Galway explained that speech and language therapy students are required to complete their practice education training through clinical placements in hospitals and healthcare facilities where they acquire and develop these skills. “As a consequence of Covid-19, clinical placements became scarce due to reduced speech and language therapy services, increased measures of infection control and the redeployment of therapists to Covid-19 related duties.” Ms Loftus said. “To deal with this crisis and provide enough clinical hours for our students, the discipline of Speech and Language Therapy at NUI Galway turned to telehealth.
“This is the first time that clinical placements for speech and language therapy students are based on providing telehealth and not face-to-face work with clients. Every week, under supervision, 27 fourth-year speech and language therapy students offer approximately 30 telehealth appointments daily. To support the delivery of appointments the students are creating a bank of video podcasts which demonstrate activities they will be targeting in therapy. This ensures families have support material to review between sessions.”
The students work with clients of all ages including some with Down Syndrome, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, or clients who have had strokes and children with speech and language needs. Initially they contact clients to explain the service, then arrange appointments and send out the materials used for each session. Sessions last from 20-45 minutes and are supervised by a qualified Speech and Language Therapist. Afterwards follow up material is sent to the client based on the progress that they made. NUI Galway are also working with parents and schools to provide advice and offer much needed therapy programmes.
“From the Clinical Educator perspective we can see how the students’ confidence, team work, problem solving and adaptability has developed over the last number of weeks and we are loving how they are growing in their ability and knowledge with every day that passes,” Ms Loftus added.
Marie, a user of the service from Galway who has Parkinson’s Disease has availed of weeky appointments with Clare. She said the experience had been a very beneficial one. “It has been a very positive experience working with the students,” she said. “Whilst I was somewhat sceptical at first I reminded myself that I was a student once and, like the girls, needed real hands on experience. They have made a huge effort to understand my specific needs and come up with exercises that are appropriate and productive as well as being suitable for the on-line platform. Both they and I have a vested interest in making this work – they need the experience and I need their specialist knowledge, so it is mutually beneficial scenario.”
The telehealth appointments are currently being rolled out across counties Galway and Donegal with plans to extend nationwide in due course.