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Teaching Telehealth: A Closer Look At What Students Are Learning

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GLENSIDE, Pa. (WLVT) - The coronavirus has created a boom in telehealth services around the country.

For therapy and rehabilitation instructors at Arcadia and Salus universities, it’s an important time to teach telehealth best practices to their students.

''I told them: When you entered the field, this was not an expectation. Now, it’s going to be an expectation,'' said Amy Miller, associate professor of physical therapy at Arcadia University. ''We need to move to a model where we’re confident in how we provide this type of service.''


Both schools created a partnership last week to explore telemedicine and held their first joint-seminar on Friday. One focus: How to overcome the challenges of working one-on-one with a patient through a computer.

''I think all of our students come into these professions because they want to help people,'' said Robert Serianni, assistant professor at Salus University. ''Certainly the computer screen puts a distance between us and our patients. So, the question is, how do you build a relationship virtually?''

According to a report published by Forbes, telehealth visits surged 50 percent in March. That's up from 10 percent of U.S. residents who reported using telehealth services in an October 2019 JD Power survey.


The instructors say they want their students to learn how to be strong communicators during telehealth sessions.

''We require both classroom and clinical work. They also work with live actors and simulated patients, which are computer created avatars,'' said Serriani. ''Telepractice is a side step for us. It’s thinking about: As a therapist, if a patient is having a hard time, I may reach out my hand on their shoulder to redirect them. With speech therapy, we’re working with individuals that have trouble talking. So, how can we extend our skills to be less physical and more verbal in our work?''

They're also learning to work with patients in their homes.

''I think it can be challenging, but we can do it,'' said Arcadia University physical therapy student Stephanie Maggio. ''It’s about learning how to help them within their environment, with what they have at home, instead of using something that I may have in a clinic.''

Salus University speech language pathology student Deanna DellaPia agreed.

''I think it’s really important that we learn how to take care of our patients both in-person and virtually,'' said DellaPia.


While not all of the services these professions provide are appropriate for telehealth, the schools say they want to embrace and hone in on ways to improve virtual visits with patients.

''Moving forward, we want to keep offering programs like this,'' said Brianna Brim, an assistant professor at Salus University. ''It will look different in the future, but it’s definitely important that we create practitioners who recognize the importance of telehealth.''

Serianni echoed those sentiments.

''We all see the value in being able to reach out to more patients. It can be difficult for some patients to travel and get to our office. If the distance is taken away, it’s good that we can still virtually visit with them.''

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