Advantages of Remote Early Intervention (EI) Evaluations
Many things have changed in 2020, but if you suspect your child has delays, an Early Intervention evaluation (for children from birth to 2 years, 11 months) is still the next step. In March 2020, telehealth evaluations and therapy services were mandated to protect families, service providers, evaluators, therapists, and teachers from the spread of COVID-19. When services are conducted remotely, the provider of the service is at a different location from the family, and communication technologies, such as computers, tablets, and cell phones, are used to access these services. These restrictions were loosened in July 2020, but to ensure the continued reduction of COVID-19 cases, teletherapy is still the preferred mode of service delivery. Unexpectedly, real advantages have been discovered.
- There are no barriers around finding providers that do telehealth evaluations in the communities where the family lives.
- The evaluator is able to observe the child in their natural environment. When evaluations are held in offices or when evaluators come to their homes, children can “freeze” or behave differently than their normal behavior.
- Telehealth can be as effective as in-person therapy and in-person evaluations because it is live.
- If the child has difficulty sitting still, it’s not a problem! The parent can follow his or her movements with the camera on the phone.
- Telehealth provides greater scheduling flexibility for parents than ever before—evenings and even Sunday appointments are possible.
- The use of teletherapy helps slow the spread of COVID-19 without the need to follow strict COVID-19 protocols.
- Telehealth evaluations are easy to schedule, even during a declared state of emergency for COVID-19. In addition to the regular consent form, parents simply sign consent for the use of telehealth.
- The parent doesn’t need to have experience with video calls. The parent and evaluator will consult during a pre-evaluation video call in order to establish the best place to have the evaluation in the home. The parent can practice setting up the phone, laptop, and tablet camera day-of to ensure the evaluator can see the area they identified.
- If a parent chooses not to use telehealth or video conferencing apps, such as Zoom, the evaluation can be done using any app the parent prefers such as Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, or Duo. These are not considered HIPAA compliant, but if the parent prefers one of them, EI will allow the use.
- The WiFi in the home must have adequate bandwidth (at least 1.5 Mbps) to support a video call without significant difficulties, such as the video stream “freezing.” The bandwidth can be checked by the parent using www.Bandwidthplace.com or another online option. If a family lacks internet or WiFi, their service coordinator assigned by the agency will help them discuss options. There may be assistance available during COVID-19 to obtain low cost or free WiFi.
- No special toys are needed. If a parent does not have 6-7 toys in the home, the evaluator will help to identify everyday objects to use instead, such as plastic plates, cups, spoons, or a hair comb. Toys may not be brought to the home at this time even if the evaluation is in person.
- After the evaluations, the process is completed, as usual. Impressions are shared and the evaluation report, which clarifies if or what type of services are needed is sent to the parent.
If the parent prefers an in-person evaluation, they must agree and adhere to the conditions for an in-person evaluation, or wait until after COVID-19 restrictions ease.
For parents that only want in-person evaluations and services, they must sign the “New York City (NYC) Early Intervention (EI) program consent to initiate or resume in-person services during COVID-19” along with the other consents required by the NY Early Intervention Program. This consent indicates that the parent agrees to the following conditions:
- Wearing masks at all times.
- Keeping others in the home that are not participating 6 feet away.
- All participants washing hands immediately before and after session.
- Rescheduling for 14 days later if someone in the home is ill.
Note: The therapist will not bring toys or materials into the home to use during the session other than paper and a pen.