- How can I help clients access our online services?
- How can I maximise privacy and confidentiality when working with parents via telepractice?
- What is telepractice and how can it be delivered?
- How does telepractice benefit clients and services?
For people to use online support services, there are three things that service providers can often help with:
- affordable data plans
- access to the internet on suitable devices
- the skills to use technology effectively.
These conditions for digital inclusion are lowest for some of the key populations who access social services, in particular low-income households (income < $35,000 per annum), mobile-only households and people aged over 65 years.
Affordability has improved only marginally since 2014 and is the starkest problem for low-income families. One contributing factor is a reliance on mobile phones, which may be perceived as cost effective but can be constrained by limited data plans. Single parents with school-aged children are one group that are more likely to be mobile-only reliant. The size of a mobile screen also limits navigation and engagement with many services.
Accessibility is also a problem for some low-income families, particularly those living in multi-dwelling units where NBN ‘fibre to the basement’ is the infrastructure for internet connectivity. Due to the construction of some multi-dwelling units, Wi-Fi connectivity is limited, meaning there are barriers to some solutions (e.g. Wi-Fi to each floor). The responsibility rests with the owner or household to connect into the home.
Solutions to issues such as accessibility are often policy-based and reliant on accepting that internet access is an essential service. However, there are some things that service providers can help with.
Telecommunications companies have programs to assist those on a low income or facing financial hardship – information on this and consumer rights can be found at www.accan.org.au.
Two examples of online programs that increase digital ability are:
- Digital Springboard – a program to help people learn the digital skills they need to thrive in work and life
- Be Connected Network (Good Things Foundation) – Australian Government initiative to increase the confidence, skills and online safety of older Australians.
Respecting and maintaining privacy and confidentiality is an integral part of service delivery for organisations that support children and families. The use of telepractice introduces some unique benefits and challenges.
Privacy refers to an individual’s right to control the extent to which their personal information is available to others, while confidentiality aims to ensure that we protect information that has been shared in confidence.
Practitioners delivering telepractice sessions with families can take the following steps:
- If working from home, check that there is no identifying information visible about you or your family (e.g. school newsletters, photographs, notice board).
- Ensure that there is no personal information about other clients that participants could see in the background of a video call (e.g. documents, whiteboards, computer screens).
- Having separate devices for private and professional use gives greater protection to sensitive client information (such as audio recordings) and reduces the chance of a family member inadvertently accessing confidential information when using your device recreationally.
Practitioners can take advantage of telepractice to give parents greater control over their own personal information. Consider discussing these ideas with parents before beginning telepractice sessions:
- Ask parents who else is nearby and how they feel about them seeing or hearing the session. Remember that other people have a right to remain anonymous – parents may have a role to play in protecting their privacy.
- When videoconferencing, both practitioner and parent can close any documents/windows that are open to avoid accidental sharing.
- With telepractice technology it is easy for all participants to record sessions. Discuss issues relating to recording sessions, and the importance of keeping any recordings secure and confidential.
For more ideas, visit Speech Pathology Australia’s Telepractice Resources page, in particular the PDF ‘FAQs – Technology, Privacy and Security for Telepractice’.
Telepractice is the use of telecommunications to deliver parenting support and other services remotely. It draws upon experiences in the delivery of telehealth and can include synchronous (e.g. virtual home visits) and asynchronous (e.g. email, text) approaches.
We use the term telepractice rather than telehealth to avoid the perception that these modes of service delivery are restricted to healthcare settings. Other commonly used terms in health care include eHealth (referring to the use of internet technology) and mHealth (encompassing mobile and app technologies).
Modes of telepractice can be categorised as:
Synchronous (interactive): in which services are delivered in real time with an individual or group of clients, for example through:
- telephone consultations and support lines
- videoconferencing or webinar technology
- internet chatroom platforms
Asynchronous: where information or advice is shared over time with clients or digital conversations occur, for example by:
- email and text messaging
- social media platforms
- digital delivery of guided self-help content where online materials such as reading or videos are supplemented by practitioner contact via email, phone or video conferencing.
- Neither participant nor practitioner needs to travel, which leads to time and cost savings. This is particularly beneficial for those with mobility impairments or other health complications.
- It reduces inconvenience for those who are supporting participants – such as carers, family members and parents – in relation to time, travel and work commitments.
Increased participant choice and preference
- Telepractice can help to reduce feelings of stigma involved in visiting a therapist or receiving home visits.
- Participants who feel uncomfortable or self-conscious in a face-to-face situation may find it easier to build a trusting relationship with a practitioner.
- Telepractice can increase participants’ independence and sense of control; for example, participants have more choice over the environment for support sessions (e.g. home, workplace) and can fit sessions around their day.
Increased service reach
- With telepractice, services can extend support beyond office hours (also increasing convenience for participants).
- Services can cross geographic boundaries, particularly beneficial to rural and regional areas where access to a wide range of skilled practitioners can be limited.
- Services can support more participants as a result of these and the logistical benefits.
Increased service flexibility and quality
- Improved logistics and flexibility enable increased flexibility and responsiveness to workforce needs.
- For services that are traditionally offered at the service location (not in the home), telepractice enables practitioners to assess and support participants in their natural environment.
- Practitioners are better able to offer shared care, consultation and collaboration with specialists – a benefit for rural and remote areas in particular.
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Supported by the Victorian Government Department of Department of Health and Human Services.