Telehealth is used throughout healthcare, allowing patients to connect to many kinds of practitioners. Telehealth is rapidly growing in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and may improve access to care for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities. Telehealth can be as simple as using a phone, tablet or computer to connect face-to-face with your healthcare provider, similar to how you may chat with family or friends who may live out-of-town.
California already had legislation in place that supported the use of telehealth – such as the Telehealth Advancement Act of 2011 – and support for telehealth was expanded in 2019 when Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 744 into law. This new legislation will make telehealth services more widely available to many Californians – including those needing behavioral therapy services. While the new law doesn’t mandate telehealth coverage until 2021, many insurance providers already offer the coverage — you may just need to ask for it.
Benefits of Telehealth in ABA-Based Behavioral Therapy
Expanding access to ABA-based behavioral therapy services through telehealth will benefit individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities in many ways. The benefits of telehealth services for this type of care includes:
- Increased Supervision and Communication
In ABA-based behavioral therapy, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) oversees treatment of a patient with autism or other developmental disability, with direct support typically provided in the home by a behavior interventionist (BI). The BCBA provides this oversight through in-home supervisory visits with the BI. During these supervisory visits, the BCBA works with the BI and the patient to ensure that the treatment plan is being followed and that the prescribed therapy is moving the patient toward established goals.In some situations, the BCBA may only be able to travel to an in-home therapy session once a month, but by using telehealth, the BCBA can remotely join sessions more often. This allows the BCBA to observe the patient, speak with the parents or other caregivers and address issues, questions, progress and goals more frequently. When using telehealth, it’s important to note that this approach doesn’t replace the behavior interventionists who provide the hands-on care during in-home ABA sessions or the in-home supervision visits by the BCBA, but instead is a way for the BCBA to provide additional supervision hours to supplement the time they spend providing in-home supervision.
- Expanded Geographical Areas Served
Without telehealth, autism service providers often find they cannot accept referred patients who live outside of their BCBAs’ travel areas. Alternatively, some families need to drive hours from their homes so their children can access services. By providing BCBA supervision using telehealth, patients can receive care from local behavior interventionists with the BCBA supervision provided remotely most of the time. This is a major benefit to people who live in more isolated communities or areas underserved by BCBAs.
- Improved Patient Outcomes and Satisfaction
By increasing the frequency of supervision and communication with patients and caregivers, BCBAs can modify treatment plans and interventions more frequently, as well as regularly conduct trainings with direct-support professionals. As a result, the pace of treatment and progress may accelerate, with patient outcomes and satisfaction improved.
The Bottom Line
Before beginning the use of telehealth, a patient’s supervising BCBA must deem telehealth as clinically appropriate for the patient’s specific needs, and the patient and/or their family must give approval. Telehealth is not suitable in all cases. Protocols, procedures and technology that are proven effective and that maintain confidentiality and privacy are already in place. Success stories have been well documented, and service providers are preparing to expand the service to meet the needs of more patients.
If you think ABA-based behavior therapy services delivered via telehealth may be beneficial for you and you’d like to learn more, please request a consultation to schedule a complimentary 30-minute telephone or in-person consultation or visit our ABA-based therapies page.