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Communicating confidently during Covid-19

This blog is written by Peninsula Health Speech Pathologist Sharon Flitman. 

As for everyone, 2020 has been a disruptive year in the Speech Pathology world.

Working with adult populations, much of our work involves ‘aerosol generating procedures’ – tasks that induce coughing, singing, and voice projection – which are no-go zones in the current coronavirus climate.

Other assessments and therapies are impossible to provide while wearing masks.

Masked mouths are not conducive to conducting swallowing assessments. Nor is it so easy to deliver ‘masked’ therapy for apraxia of speech, which often requires a person to watch their own mouth in a mirror, or watch the therapist’s mouth as a model.

But fortunately, the COVID cloud has a silver lining for ‘Speechies’.

For those open to embracing technology, the unusual current context has provided an opportunity to explore the previously unchartered waters of telehealth. And for some of our patients and clients, this has been a definitive change for the better.

The switch to telehealth

The convenience of being able to fire up a phone or computer and receive assessment, advice and rehabilitation from the comfort of home has been welcomed by many of those referred to our service.

One older gentleman advised that he would have been unable complete his intensive voice therapy program had he been required to physically attend centre-based sessions.

Eliminating the travel factor meant that he no longer needed a carer to drive him into and home from each appointment. Not to mention the fatigue saved by cutting out the travel.

But of course the transition to telehealth has not been without its challenges. Many have found the technology tricky to access due to cognitive, hearing or language impairments.

Others simply lack familiarity with the video calling capabilities of their computers, phones and tablets. But so far, most of the struggles have been surmountable.

One lady referred to us for aphasia (acquired language impairment) therapy had a profound hearing impairment and wore bilateral cochlear implants. Hearing was a tricky enough task for her during face-to-face sessions; let alone via video calls.

Somehow however, we made it work.

Using the shared whiteboard available on telehealth platforms, we conducted our sessions in a modified way; me typing and her responding verbally. Sure – it was a little slower than it may have been in a more typical face-to-face appointment. But 13 sessions and a whole lot of improvement later, we declared the experiment an overwhelming success.

The moral of the story?

Most challenges present opportunities if we look hard enough for them. And where more conventional communication avenues fail: use some creativity to find another way!