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College clinic and center offer collaborative telehealth services

lauren.leathers

May 26, 2021

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When COVID-19 escalated in March 2020, the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic and the Center for Autism and Behavioral Education Research (CABER) quickly transitioned to telehealth models to continue to conduct online evaluations for patients.

Typically, parents make separate appointments with the clinics depending on their child’s needs. Now, the two clinics collaborated to conduct online autism, speech and language evaluations for patients simultaneously.

Through the telehealth model, CABER can complete autism evaluations, specifically for toddlers. This online model has proven to be helpful, as observing children in their home environment can often provide a more accurate assessment of how a child functions in everyday life rather in an unfamiliar testing environment.

The telehealth model also benefits the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic, as wearing a mask during in-person evaluations can limit the clinician’s ability to see how children are using their mouths to make sounds. In addition, the masks can block seeing facial expressions and can muffle voices.

The telehealth model has been successful for both practitioners and students, as well as patients who have limited transportation options to campus. Additionally, graduate students and practitioners can observe both clinics’ methods during evaluations and learn from one another.

“It’s incredibly helpful for me, as a psychologist, to see what the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic does in their evaluations,” said Andrea Zawoyski, CABER’s assistant research scientist. “It’s also a great opportunity for our CABER students to observe how collaboration works in terms of preparing to work in the field and building professional relationships.”

Together, Zawoyski and T.J Ragan, director of UGA’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, have completed two successful collaborative evaluations. Through the evaluations, they can diagnose deficits and identify services needed to help young children succeed.

“We had one client come in initially with concerns about autism,” said Ragan, who is also a clinical associate professor in the department of communication sciences and special education. “Zawoyski ended up ruling out autism, but we did find language delays. The family was able to begin telehealth speech and language services quickly after the evaluation rather than having to wait for a referral. That child made amazing progress and graduated from speech services within a semester. This new collaborative model really made the process seamless for the family.”

The telehealth model also allows the clinics to extend their reach to more rural areas of Georgia. As licensed practitioners, Zawoyski and Ragan can practice anywhere in the state, but transportation often is an issue for parents living in rural areas.

“We can now see patients across the state,” Zawoyski said. “Whereas previously, if a patient was farther away, they might be less likely to come to us due to the drive.”