Flexible, Accessible School Psychology Through Telehealth

Platform provides online clinical assessments and counsellor support.
Clinical psychologist services made accessible to schools.

When it comes to psychology for children, there’s an emerging concern that support and treatment is becoming increasingly inaccessible. Parents are struggling to access psychologists, yet one in 7 children and adolescents aged 4–17 have recently experienced a mental health disorder in Australia.

During the pandemic, demand for support via telehealth for Kids Helplines increased massively. But the harsh reality is that challenges in accessing mental health support services are unlikely to dissipate any time soon. When used in the education system, telehealth plays an important role in bridging the gap, helping to provide access to psychologists and counsellors in a school setting who aren’t available on campus.

Generally, schools will have a lot of counsellors and some may have access to psychologists, but very few have clinical psychologists. Not only does this provide access to clinical assessments in a school setting, but using telehealth is a way of continuing care with students and their families. Telehealth is particularly useful for psychologists to keep in touch with parents in separated families.

Psychologists or school counsellors will consult students and families via video telehealth, just like a social or business video call with appointments being made ahead of time – either by the school, student or students’ family. The service can be used to offer students psychological support and assessments for issues related to both wellbeing and learning.

Telehealth allows assessments and consultations to be conducted across multiple locations in a single day. This provides psychologists and counsellors with scheduling flexibility, as well as the opportunity to provide services to students who may not have access to a licensed school psychologist.

What are the technical and time requirements?
In a school setting, telehealth for psychology services simply requires using technology via the internet. The school would need to organise a safe and private space with access to a computer or tablet with a video camera to support this form of consultation. The psychologist would send a link to their telehealth clinic. The student would just click on the link to enter their consultation room, without any need for the student to download the application.

The use in a home environment for the child is similar and they simply need access to the internet and a video-enabled device to join a counselling or therapy session.

A consultation between a psychologist/counsellor and a child would not need to take up a lot of time. It could be planned for a free time in the child’s calendar or even during the lunch time break. For smaller children, the consultation would likely be very short, maybe 15 minutes, as smaller children find it hard to focus. Older children could have a 30 minute or up to 1 hour consultation.

Psychologists, counsellors, speech therapists and occupational therapists that are starting therapy with a child will want to do a standardised assessment with the children first to identify their specific gaps.

Typically, that involves a lengthy session and in the past has required the assessor to be in the same room as the child. Such sessions can take up to 2.5 hours to complete.

Coviu in collaboration with Pearson Clinical have made a big difference in this space, which has been acknowledged internationally during the pandemic’s shutdown periods. Pearson Clinical's digital stimulus books from several assessments, including the WISC-5 and CELF-5, have been integrated into Coviu's technology, meaning both the provider and patient can undertake the assessment on a video call and still receive the correct test outcome.

How does the technology work?
Coviu has worked with Pearson Clinical to develop the best patient and clinician experience possible for psychological consultation and assessment. A core part of that experience is an asymmetrical user interface. This allows for the child that is being assessed to only see the assessor and the stimulus book, without being distracted by any other user interface elements during the course of the assessment.

In contrast, the assessor will be able to see the child, even enlarge their video and track the child’s clicks on the images. Numbered markers appear on the assessor’s end, enabling them to review the child’s interactions and a recording of the assessment results to be carried out in paper-based forms. The technology allows practitioners to perform clinical assessments remotely, and continue to provide long-term telehealth services to students living in rural and remote regions, disabled or mobility impaired individuals or under-resourced schools. Telehealth allows services to be provided to students who are school non-attenders and supports continuity of care.

How many students could be reached in this way?
Across the country, thousands of students can benefit from this technology. There are many school districts that are unable to find school psychologists to offer in-person services. Most public schools have counsellors available that service their area, but they might be shared between different schools, to telehealth enables them to reach all schools more equally. Schools in remote locations as well as in more populated areas experience inadequate staffing to address students’ needs. The use of telehealth allows students in these environments to receive services remotely that they otherwise may not have access to.

Scientists have engaged in multiple research projects with Coviu and Pearson to determine the best approach in achieving valid results from telehealth delivered tests. The results were published and continue to be overwhelmingly positive, suggesting that video consultations are a great way to provide care and achieve optimal health outcomes.

Where can schools access it?
Schools that have existing psychologists or counsellors can directly sign up with Coviu to enable their counselling staff to reach out to non-attenders or to other schools that they support and have no psychologist on staff.

Coviu actually has agreements with a number of state health departments that are using the platform to deliver speech therapy, counseling and occupational therapy to schools particularly in rural and remote areas.

In Queensland, Coviu has a partnership with Outback Futures who are delivering mental health support into outback communities including schools: https://outbackfutures.org.au/stay-with-me-video-connect .

To date, Coviu has delivered over 6.5 million healthcare video consultations via 90,000+ users, partly through the Healthdirect video call platform which is a Coviu customer.