Published: Sept. 17, 2009

Professor Gail Ramsberger, chair of the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) department, realizes that technology is changing the way speech, language and hearing therapy works.

Something as simple as video conferencing, because of its affordability and relatively low cost, is creating a treatment option that never existed before: teletherapy. Teletherapy is the practice of using technology to provide professional therapy services from a distance.

The SLHS department at CU is taking the steps to implement this practice within graduate level classes; graduate students will not only learn how technology can provide treatment options, but will apply teletherapy to treat aphasia patients.

Professor Ramsberger is the resident expert on aphasia—an acquired disorder of language processing that wreaks havoc on a person’s capability to create and understand sentences, phrases or even choose correct words.

Research suggests that the most effective treatment schedules for those with aphasia are time-intensive: i.e., schedules in which patients attend therapy sessions at a hospital or outpatient clinic for several hours a day, 4-5 days a week, for several weeks.

Most patients with aphasia have experienced strokes or other neurological events that have led to the disease;  their old age and impaired physical abilities makes traveling back and forth from a doctor’s office difficult if not impossible. Consequently, aphasia therapy is typically not able to be delivered on an intensive basis.

So what is the solution?  Bring the treatment to them.

Professor Ramsberger and Clinical Instructor Barbara Rende are teaching a graduate class this Fall 2009 semester, and will use teletherapy in place of traditional therapy practices to bring treatment to patients. Each patient will be given their own Mac computer, complete with a built-in iSight camera. Using iChat, graduate students will be able to treat up to 2 patients at once, who are sitting in the comfort of their own home.

Each patient will be able to see the student therapist and the second patient simultaneously. The treatment will mirror an in-office experience—but without the hassle of getting to an actual doctor’s office. And besides this benefit to the patient, graduate students in the SLHS department will get plenty of hands-on experience using a modern treatment option.

The answer seems simple, so why hasn’t teletherapy taken off before this? Ramsberger explains, “People are hesitant because what we do as speech-language pathologists is such a human discipline."

In other words, therapists and doctors are more used to seeing their patients face to face—and are unsure about the idea that personal connections and therapeutic input are still possible from a distance. With teletherapy practice in Drs. Ramsberger & Rende’s class, students will learn to become comfortable treating a patient from afar.

“It will show students possibilities besides traditional delivery models,” professor Ramsberger shares. She hopes this practice will train students to be more capable and have a farther reaching effect in our technology-filled world.

There are health challenges around the globe. When people are unfortunate enough to have a disease or disability in an area where no expert resides, it used to be they were merely out of luck. Now, “telemedicine makes treatment global,” says professor Ramsberger.

Gail Ramsberger and Barbara Rende hope that the class they’re teaching provides evidence that teletherapy can be just as successful as traditional treatment. With more evidence behind the practice, she anticipates universities will begin to add technology-supported treatments into their curriculum.

This will contribute to the ultimate goal: providing a more relevant education to students and supplying the world with trained, competent and innovative individuals.

Written By: Kate Vander Wiede, CU '09, ASSETT Staff