The Benefits of Videoconferencing in Therapy

Why we should use video-conferencing more often in therapy
By Seb Della Maddalena, Manager, Therapy and Support Services

“Technologies such as video-conferencing have opened up a world of opportunity for people with disability. VisAbility Manager of Therapy and Support Services Seb Della Maddalena explores the hidden, yet most significant, benefit of video-conferencing in the delivery of therapy services to young children. It will make you challenge your perception that face-to-face is always better.

I often listen to people describe video-conferencing as a useful and convenient option when delivering services in regional and remote locations – however, the sentence almost always ends with ‘it doesn’t replace face-to-face time.’

This statement implies that video-conferencing is a substandard mode of service delivery.

Image of a man holding a tablet at a white wooden table

Let’s explore the hidden, yet most significant, benefit of video-conferencing in the delivery of therapy services to young children that will make you challenge the belief that face-to-face is always better.

Parents and caregivers are their child’s first and single most important teacher (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009). The National Guidelines on Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention (2016) Quality Area 3 highlights the importance of Capacity-Building Practices – which “encompasses building the capacity of the child, family, professionals and community through coaching and collaborative team work. The goal is to build the knowledge, skills and abilities of the individuals who will spend the most time with the child in order to have as great an impact as possible on the child’s learning and development.

I’d like to focus on capacity-building practices and video-conferencing, which due to its nature, relies on parents and caregivers being active participants in the therapy process.

So, how exactly does video-conferencing build the capacity of parents to support their child’s development?

The assumption is that when providing face-to-face services, professionals (therapists) can more easily spend time working directly with the child than with the parent. However, video-conferencing impacts on being able to provide direct, child-focused interventions – where the professional engages in one-on-one activities with the child.

A couple of years ago, VisAbility participated in a national pilot project called VidKids, which utilised video-conferencing to deliver therapy services to 12 children with vision impairment across rural and remote areas of Western Australia.

One of the initial concerns of staff was how they’d interact with children who couldn’t see them. Another concern was how to successfully build rapport with families.

To assist with forming a connection with families, staff quickly learnt strategies and tips; such as the value of humour and how to use eye contact to communicate effectively with parents over video. The actual implementation of how to deliver a therapy session involved trial and error and was mostly left to staff to figure out (and they did very well).

The results of the project were fascinating. Staff from VisAbility and organisations across Australia reported that parents were generally more active in sessions than when engaging in face to face therapy services. Staff also reported that they considered their practice to be more collaborative as they utilised approaches such as capacity-building practices – where parents actively problem-solved and practiced strategies during therapy sessions. Recently, I attended a presentation where research from the United States shared the same findings.

This led me to reflect on my early days working as an occupational therapist; when I would share with parents what we did in the session and quickly offer activities they should try in-between visits. We now know is that this approach is ineffective.

Since VidKids, VisAbility has broadened its video-conferencing services to include orientation and mobility (O & M). This includes teaching people how to move around safely and independently in their home and community environment. O & M has taught us that almost any therapy intervention is possible to deliver through video-conferencing.

In summary, the mode of service delivery does not limit professionals’ ability to deliver services that utilise best practice principles.”

Perhaps you may like to consider video-conferencing as tool to develop your skills in capacity-building practices? For information on best practice in ECI download a copy of the National Guidelines on Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention (link opens in new window).