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Digital Therapy Tools for Schools: Trending Fast and Here to Stay

Special education therapy began using digital tools to enhance its practitioners’ performance well before 2020, but in recent years online therapy has become more widely practiced and accepted. Presence, the leading provider of digital therapy services, wanted to better understand how school-based therapists are grappling with the changes to education due to the recent pandemic and what role digital tools will play in the future of therapy practices. What are their priorities and what challenges are they facing in their day-to-day practices?

Seeking answers, we conducted a survey of 126 school-based providers. According to the therapists themselves, the digital world is here to stay. However, the survey results revealed that without the right tools to support them, therapists’ priorities don’t match up to how they are actually spending their working time. The survey insights show how these professionals view the impact of digital therapy tools on their day-to-day working conditions and just how critical technology can be in the face of change.

What’s next for school-based therapists, now that we’re back to school?

The responses from therapists who participated in the Presence survey conclusively demonstrate that digital therapy tools are a valuable, career-enhancing way of delivering services. More than a third (36 percent) of the survey respondents are already choosing to work entirely remotely, while a nearly equal number (38 percent) combine in-person and remote work.

Therapists’ top career priorities are split between two goals.

When asked about their highest career priorities, therapists cited two different core values as the most important aspects of the job:

  • Serving students to the best of their abilities
  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Nearly half—44 percent—of therapists said their highest job priority is to reach as many students who require their services as possible. One-third—32 percent—said their work-life balance was the most critical consideration. The good news? Digital therapy is a powerful tool for achieving both of these priorities.

Therapists can save time that might otherwise be taken up with researching and sourcing fresh materials by using Therapy Essentials’ extensive library of digital content that includes activities, games, and assessments, to design sessions and organize content by student or therapy category.

In addition to greater productivity and increased hours to provide students, digital therapy offers therapists the advantage of flexibility, enabling seamless time shifting between remote work hours and other needs, from child care to healthy relaxation. The convenience of working remotely from home, either full- or part-time, facilitates the work-life balance so many professionals strive to maintain.

Source: Presence eBook, Guide to Conducting Therapy Online

The Presence platform enables me to reach more students than I would otherwise be able to. I have cut way back on my clinicians’ windshield time so they can spend more time serving students and less time driving.

Headshot of Mike Lowers

Mike Lowers
Former Executive Director, Central Kansas Cooperative in Education

A heavy paperwork load is therapists’ biggest challenge and the most time-consuming part of the job.

A key challenge we heard from respondents is that the way therapists actually spend their time does not correspond with their stated priorities.

  • More than half (51 percent) of respondents told us that the majority of their time—apart from the hours spent delivering therapy to students—is spent on manually completing paperwork or documentation.
  • More than a third (37 percent) said they spend more time on scheduling, paperwork, and documentation than on delivering therapy services.
  • A quarter (24 percent) cited administering, reporting, and scoring student assessments as the most time-consuming part of their job.

Larger caseloads increase paperwork requirements. The time pressures that result from these demanding obligations are a source of on-the-job stress. Therapists cited two further challenges as most taxing and difficult to manage:

  • Delivering services to a larger caseload than in previous years (27 percent)
  • Preparing enough materials to keep students connected and engaged during therapy sessions (19 percent). Most of the therapists (77 percent) told us content preparation before student meetings takes them anywhere from one to five hours per week.

Pathologists get into their field because they want to help people. Unfortunately, the time spent in meetings and doing paperwork can interfere with their ability to actually do their job.

Katie Yeh
MA, CCC-SLP

The rich digital content library and huge variety of interactive games, therapeutic tools, and materials available on the Therapy Essentials platform are a resource for therapists, allowing them to spend less time on content creation and session preparation.

In-person, virtual, or a combination of both?

One finding of the Presence survey confirms that utilizing technology during the therapy session is the new norm. School-based therapists report they are using the Presence Therapy Essentials platform both virtually and in-person. The flexibility of digital therapy is allowing school-based therapists to take ownership of their digital therapy practices by designing their preferred combinations of virtual and in-person sessions.

Digital tools nurture student engagement.

Most respondents agree they are successfully capturing students’ interest and attention with new, digital-first methods such as those provided on Presence’s Therapy Essentials platform. One particularly striking result of the survey is that three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) report that their students are equally or more engaged using the tools on the Therapy Essentials platform as they are during in-person tech-free sessions.

Today’s young learners feel at home in the virtual environment. We know students enjoy computer games during their free time, and it’s no surprise that they will readily engage with online games during therapy sessions.

Our students/clients are immersed in this technological age, and if we want to reach them, then we need to join them.

Nanette Cote
Blog interview

The most valuable aspect of the platform is the increased flexibility it provides for therapists.

Respondents to the Presence survey cited several of the advantages the Therapy Essentials platform offers:

  • Increased flexibility over therapists’ schedules and how they want to practice (30 percent)
  • Greater student engagement during sessions (20 percent)
  • The ability to reach a larger number of students (18 percent)
  • Better access to more on-demand materials and content (13 percent)

The future of therapy is digital.

Presence’s survey findings reflect the anticipated growth of the digital therapeutics market generally in the U.S., which is expected to reach nearly $14 billion by 2027, according to Allied Analytics LLCThe therapists confidently—and almost unanimously (95 percent)—predict that in the next five years digital therapy and assessment will be crucial to delivering school-based therapy services.  Many are already choosing Therapy Essentials, the premier platform for school-based digital therapy, and taking advantage of its powerful solutions: two out of three respondents (62 percent) agree that using digital tools makes them more efficient and productive in their jobs.

To remain agile in the face of change, therapists need digital solutions that not only reduce their manual workload, but are easy to use, both in-person and virtually. With the right digital therapy and assessment tools therapists can dedicate their time to the things that matter most—serving their students and achieving a healthy work-life balance.

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