Face-to-face speech language therapy via telehealth is now available to rural patients in the Waikato DHB.

The DHB has 10 Hamilton-based Speech Language Therapists (SLT) based in Hamilton, serving the wider Waikato region, with some providing weekly outpatient clinics in Te Kuiti, Thames and Tokoroa.

SLT Leisha Davies says the use of telehealth technology, delivered via a patient’s smartphone, tablet, computer or using a hospital mobile televisual unit, means the team now saves on travel time and can deliver more regular, sometimes daily therapy, to their outlying rural patients. She now sees about 40 per cent of her patients using telehealth and for the overall department it is about 12 per cent.

The DHB’s team treats a wide range of patients with swallowing, voice, speech and language difficulties caused by stroke and neuro-degenerative conditions, such as motor neurone, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Some patients require only short-term treatment, but others need ongoing support as their disease progresses.

“While patients will generally receive weekly treatments of 30-60 minutes, with telehealth it’s now significantly easier to schedule more intensive daily sessions for each patient lasting 10-15 minutes, which research shows helps cement their speech gains and confidence” said Davies. “We have even used the mobile Telehealth carts in our rural hospitals, which can be wheeled to a patient’s bedside for intensive speech therapy”.

Using telehealth also meant patients could be matched to a therapist who is a specialist in the area of help the patient needs.

“I specialise in voice therapy, so although one of my colleagues will conduct the weekly clinic in Thames when a patient needed specialist voice therapy, I can then use telehealth at other times to manage the ongoing care of that patient.”

Some patients still prefer in-person face-to-face consultations, but the team says most are open and able to have it online instead and they believe it might also work well in the rest home environment.

“With voice therapy, sound quality and clarity is clearly very important and for the vast majority of consultations there have been no issues” says Leisha.

“When patients use a computer, there are sometimes a few sound problems, but these have been overcome by the patient’s use of a headset to minimise feedback.”

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