Establishment of an Innovative Telehealth Speech and Language Therapy Placement as a Rapid Response to COVID-19: Sharing the Learning
The aim of this evaluation was to explore practice educators’ and speech and language therapy (SLT) students’ experiences of a rapid response telehealth placement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to inform quality improvement. In March 2020, public health restrictions were imposed across Ireland in efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All placements were cancelled. According to an Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists survey in April 2020, 47% of SLTs were redeployed to swabbing and contact tracing roles, and many remain redeployed seven months later. This redeployment, along with strict public health measures in clinical sites, significantly reduced the availability of clinical placements. A rapid response was required to enable students to develop clinical competencies. Although telehealth has been used to deliver speech and language therapy in other countries, it had not been used routinely in service provision in Ireland. In this article, we outline how we built on existing partnerships with practice educators, both on- and off-site, to design a much-needed telehealth placement. We explored educators’ and students’ experiences using an online focus group and online survey respectively. The evaluations of practice educators were positive in that despite their initial apprehension, they reported that this placement provided valuable learning opportunities for students while also providing benefits for clients. They also reported some technological and sustainability challenges. The students also evaluated this placement positively with 83.3% of respondents rating the placement as ‘excellent ‘and 16.7% rating it as ‘good’. All stakeholders valued this learning experience.
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