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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Get Parents to Engage in Telehealth!

Updated: Sep 6, 2020

These times are so busy for EVERYONE. Parents included, with their schedules maxed out and everyone's patience on edge. And we feel for them. So many of us are parents ourselves! But this does make it challenging to provide telehealth - good telehealth sessions - that make us feel like effective online therapists who are making positive differences in the lives of our families and kids.

I am by no means an expert in telehealth, though I wish I were! Nonetheless, I wanted to share my own impressions, ideas, as well as solid advice that I have garnered from experienced telehealth occupational therapists. So, here are my top five foundational approaches for ensuring we engage our parents and serve both our parents and families well.

1- Plan . . . Plan . . . Plan!

If you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of therapist, you are likely creative, experienced, and generally prepared, with a great toolbox of activities at the ready. I would describe myself in this way, to some extent. But I must say, this approach can catch me off guard when it comes to telehealth. Taking a few minutes to write down activity ideas for each child can make a big and positive difference in how smoothly your session goes AND how well you can engage parents before, during, and after sessions.

2- Communicate with Parent or Caregiver BEFORE a Telehealth Session

Get in touch with a parent or caregiver well in advance of a session - we're talking at least one full day before! After all, who knows how frequently they are checking their e-mail or texts. And during this advance contact, be certain to ask them to share the best way for you to reach them, and write this down!

Also, take this opportunity to have a discussion about technology! Describe the platform you will be using and explain what the parent or caregiver's responsibility will be. Schedule your first session, and ask the parent what device they plan to use. Ask them to ASK YOU any questions they may have!

During your preliminary contact with them, reinforce the expectation that a responsible adult will be with the child during the entirety of the telehealth session, not only to ensure that technology runs smoothly, but to make certain the child remains safe while under your watch.

In addition, during this early conversation, solicit one of two relevant and functional goals that a parent hopes their child will achieve through the course of occupational therapy. Is it making a snack by themselves? Independence with shoe tying or toileting? Getting a parent to share their goals can promote parent buy-in into the telehealth OT process. And never forget to reiterate the purpose of occupational therapy. Do you have your own favorite script for this? If not, you can borrow this favorite standby: Tell parents that OT addresses the skills for living. Who doesn't want their children to become more independent, accomplished, and confident?!

3- Decide How to Connect DURING a Telehealth Session

You have ensured that a parent or caregiver is there, with you, giving (hopefully) both you and their child their focus. Also, you must check quickly to make sure that all technology (screens, sounds, and internet connection are working properly.) Also, suggest right away where a child's screen should be placed so the child is in an optimal position to see you, your screen, and your demonstrations as needed.

At this starting point of the session, you may want to touch base straightaway about important goals that a parent expressed and that the two of you have already addressed. But we all know that too much talking can be distracting to children on our caseloads. So, you may want to think of different ways that you and a parent can become creative with this! One way may be to share your screen with a simple schedule of activities for the telehealth session. Also, verify that the parent or caregiver knows how to access any links you may send.

4- Follow up AFTER a Session . . .

As busy as you are and as time demanding as this is, I cannot recommend enough that a follow-up e-mail be sent home to the child's caregiver. This should be simple to write, simple for a parent to read, and should consist of nothing more than a recap of goals addressed during the session, a quick list of activities used, and a summary of how the child responded. Solicit any further goals and/or concerns from the parent. End by sharing the proposed date for the next telehealth session.

5- Emphasize Your Flexibility During Telehealth

Telehealth is a unique service delivery method for occupational therapy. And as challenging and novel as it can be at times, we can all probably agree that there are definite benefits to seeing children in their natural environments. If a child struggles with toothbrushing, then take telehealth into the bathroom! Likewise, if lunchtime routine and clean-up is a challenge for the whole family, have lunch together!

One of the best ways to show what a valuable role occupational therapy can play in the lives of children with motor, executive function, or sensory processing issues, is to show what a difference we can make when we break tasks down and consider a child's strengths and weaknesses as we work to help families.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of ideas when it comes to engaging families during telehealth. But hopefully one or two of these suggestions may resonate with you. And please, feel welcome to send me any of your ideas for engaging parents and caregivers in telehealth. I would be HAPPY to add these onto this blog!

As always, feel welcome to touch base with me, Lisa Marnell, by e-mail at

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"Today's Foundation is Tomorrow's Success!"

Lisa Marnell MBA, MS, OTR/L

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