Speech therapy software, which patients use to practice between sessions, can help power improvements in language. These digital tools are becoming more commonly accepted as legitimate forms of home practice, but some therapists are advising patients to consult with them first to maximize the potential benefits of this technology.
To learn more, Software Advice ran a survey to find out how patients are using speech therapy software.
This report will help speech therapy software vendors better understand how patients engage with their products. Speech therapy practices, meanwhile, can use our findings to help guide their approach to implementing these solutions in a way that impacts patient progress, fosters a sense of improvement and encourages home practice.
- Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of speech therapy patients are using, or have used, speech therapy software to practice at home.
- Of those patients that use speech therapy software for home practice, the overwhelming majority (89 percent) have noticed improvements.
- When evaluating speech therapy software, the top criterion used is whether the technology is therapist-recommended (chosen 35 percent of the time).
As the use of at-home speech therapy apps and software becomes increasingly popular, patients are presented with hundreds of ways to make the most of their practice time. Our survey set out to learn how this technology is being incorporated into patient routines, and how valuable they think it is. Respondents consisted of adult speech therapy patients—and parents of child patients—who had attended speech therapy sessions within the past two years.
We also interviewed two speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to find out what patients should consider during the software-selection process, how the proper use of software can lead to improvements in self-expression and which clinical factors lend context to our findings.
Most Patients Use Speech Therapy for Home Practice
When we asked respondents how often they (or their children) use apps or other software for speech therapy home practice, 74 percent reported doing so with some degree of frequency. (We’ll break this down further later in this report.)
Patient Use of Software for Home Practice
This high adoption rate indicates that consumers clearly see value in using speech therapy software between sessions. Part of this software’s popularity could be due to the sheer amount of technology available. A search of the Apple iPhone and iPad app stores alone reveals hundreds of speech therapy options, from free phonics exercises to $50 articulation games. There are even blogs dedicated to reviews of speech therapy apps.
Dr. Lemmietta McNeilly is the chief staff officer for speech-language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). While one of ASHA’s publications praises speech therapy apps for their ability to “facilitate engagement, provide auditory and visual feedback and track behavior,” McNeilly notes that patients should consult with a medical professional before they begin using software at home.
“The SLP will provide specific guidance about which apps and levels are appropriate for practice at home, based on the diagnosis and identified communication needs,” she says.
Fellow SLP and app designer Megan Sutton agrees. She is the director of Tactus Therapy Solutions, a company that makes professional and personal speech therapy apps.
“Technology for therapy doesn’t replace the therapist or the need for an individualized assessment and treatment plan, but it can help people improve faster by getting more practice,” Sutton says.
Next, we segmented those respondents who reported using speech therapy software by age group. The 25 to 34 age range represented the highest percentage of home speech software users, at 24 percent. The lowest percentage belonged to the over-65 crowd, which made up just 11 percent of our sample. (Thirty-three percent of respondents did not specify an age range, and were therefore excluded from the percentage calculations below.)
Patient Use of Software for Home Practice, by Age
Of course, this data was gathered via online survey, so the results are representative of the Internet-using public. This data point is still significant, however, because it shows there is room for greater technological engagement with older speech therapy patients.
In fact, senior speech therapy patients could uniquely benefit from home practice software. Most SLPs have specific training for geriatric patients with speech, voicing and cognition challenges, including aphasia; a language disorder that often develops as the result of a stroke or head injury.
Since nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, there is a large pool of recovering elders who could potentially be targeted for more extensive education and outreach about how specialized therapy apps and software can assist them in home practice.
Most See ‘Significant’ Improvement With Software Use
A combined 89 percent of speech therapy patients (or their parents) report some level of improvement since they began using speech therapy apps or software at home. Fifty-one percent of respondents describe their improvement as “significant,” 24 percent see it as “moderate” and 14 percent note it as “slight.” Only 11 percent report no improvement at all.
Improvement With Software-Based Home Practice
These numbers are not surprising to Sutton, who says the right software can be very efficient in helping patients hone in on a specific therapy goal.
“Technology is particularly good at helping motivate people to practice more, tracking their progress or making exercises more game-like,” she explains.
To see how different respondent groups within our sample perceive software-based speech therapy improvements, we next broke down the data by population. We found that adult patients are much more likely to describe “significant” improvements (61 percent), compared to 31 percent of parents of child patients.
Improvement With Software-Based Home Practice, by Population
McNeilly has a few thoughts on why this might be: “Adults [who] are working on their goals in therapy and practicing at home have a better understanding of the concepts that they have been addressing in therapy, and how to continue to practice to strengthen their skills at home,” she says.
“They see the direct connections; they probably asked the SLP specific questions about the practice, or recall the feedback they received during treatment, and are able to identify their accurate responses while practicing at home.”
Looking at our data, Sutton also points out that the word “improvement” can be interpreted in many ways. A great deal of time and effort goes into improving a patient’s interpersonal communication, and so the many small steps involved in reaching this larger objective may be difficult to recognize immediately—especially by outside observers (such as parents).
For a more accurate picture of a patient’s development, it is thus necessary to consult the SLP treating them. Sometimes, therapists themselves use electronic tools to record a speech therapy patient’s progress. Certain vendors even feature speech therapy patient portals that allow users to view visit summaries and test results to get a more comprehensive look at patient gains.
Nearly Half of Patients Use Software Practice Daily
We next wanted to see how frequently patients use software for home practice, so for this data point, we excluded respondents who say they “never” use technology. Among the remaining respondents, 49 percent say they use speech therapy apps or software “daily,” while 30 percent report “weekly” use. Only 10 percent use software for home practice on a “less than monthly” basis.
Frequency of Software Use in Home Practice
The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets could be one reason why speech therapy technology attracts users on such a frequent basis. According to a recent Pew study, as of January 2014, 58 percent of American adults had a smartphone and 42 percent owned a tablet computer. Logging some practice time in-between therapy sessions may be more convenient on these devices, since they usually require no additional supplies or equipment and are generally easy to carry around.
“Repetition is key to recovery in speech-language disorders, so technology provides an easy way to get more repetitions in-between sessions with a therapist,” Sutton notes.
According to our survey responses, many patients use a combination of electronic and traditional home practice methods (which we will touch on later in this report) to get these repetitions in. Since experts generally recommend 10 minutes of home practice daily, the fact that nearly half of our tech-using respondents reported daily use is a good sign.
Therapist Recommendation Is Top Software-Selection Factor
To learn how respondents narrow down their choices to a single product, we asked what the most important criteria are for considering speech therapy software, either for themselves or their child (multiple criteria could be selected).
The top choice is if the app or software program comes recommended by a therapist, chosen 35 percent of the time. This is followed by “positive online reviews” (24 percent) and “breadth of features included” (22 percent).
Top Selection Criteria for Speech Therapy Software
Based on these results, a relatively simple app or program with good reviews that is recommended by a therapist seems to hold more value to consumers than a feature-rich one with cutting-edge graphics.
Of course, while our respondents may not necessarily need complex software, its functionality must still fit their needs. Sutton says this highlights the importance of apps with “evidence-based” exercises: those designed using techniques that have proved successful in scientific and clinical studies.
“Some apps provide more evidence-based exercises than others, so it matters that you use a professional app with good theory behind it to make sure you’re improving at the right things,” Sutton explains.
Indeed, some apps can be used both in and out of therapy sessions. Naming TherAppy, for example, an app created by Sutton’s company, is used to treat an aspect of aphasia (the condition described earlier in this report). It was designed for people struggling with the inability to recall words and names.
For example, in the screenshot featuring the image of a hamburger, the different cue icons are arranged from least helpful on the left to most helpful on the right. The design and functionality of other modules in the app are based on other proven clinical treatment techniques.
Verbal Exercises Are Preferred Over Tech Tools
To find out how speech therapy software stacks up against more traditional methods, we next asked respondents to rank their preferred home practice techniques (allowing them to choose more than one). “Verbal exercises” tops the list (31 percent), followed by flashcard games and exercises (22 percent) and “worksheets” (20 percent).
Speech therapy mobile apps and computer software rank relatively low on the list, chosen 19 percent of the time, while the least preferred home practice method is the use of “physical tools,” such as listening tubes.
Most Preferred Home Practice Methods
Given our sample’s large number of users and how frequently they reported practicing with such technologies, we were surprised that software and apps did not rank higher on this list. ASHA’s McNeilly says this may be due to the collaborative nature of the other methods described, especially when it comes to child patients.
“Many parents may feel more comfortable practicing verbally, without using technology, because it is more natural to talk face-to-face,” she explains. “Parents can control the stimuli (i.e., words and/or pictures) presented, speed of presentation and opportunities for repetition.”
McNeilly also points out that apps and software with scoring features may be problematic if they’re too rigid, due to the potential for low scores and patient frustration. For patients practicing alone, however, the level of interaction provided by software can bring unique value to home practice routines.
“There are advantages built into technology that you can’t get with paper exercises, such as auditory or visual feedback, cues and stimuli you can hear and interact with—rather than just static, printed materials,” Sutton says.
Most Patients Say Software Was Recommended by Therapist
Forty-seven percent of our subjects say their SLP recommended the use of speech therapy apps or software for practicing at home. Thirty-three percent say this technology was never mentioned by the therapist—and perhaps most surprisingly, 20 percent say their therapist opposed the use of technology for home practice.
SLP Recommendations of Software for Home Practice
Though more than twice as many therapists recommend the use of speech therapy apps or software as opposed it, we were curious as to why it would be discouraged at all.
“Many times, these apps are designed for different purposes, and the levels may not be appropriate [for a given patient],” says Dr. McNeilly. “Home practice materials designed by the SLP for a specific patient will be at the appropriate level for them, and will include the type of stimuli that is appropriate to facilitate the patient’s success at home.”
Patients or parents should bring up the subject of apps and software with their therapists if they are evaluating whether or not a product is appropriate. And since so many of our respondents told us speech therapy technology was never mentioned by their SLP, it seems software vendors and app developers may benefit from ramping up educational outreach efforts on the benefits of proper technology use for home practice.
Our data shows that the use of speech therapy apps and software for home practice is relatively common among the patients we surveyed. While this technology may not necessarily be patients’ preferred method, its ability to encourage frequent use is clear. And according to our data, it can significantly boost language improvements for users—potentially leading to more motivated patients, fueled by a sense of accomplishment.
Speech therapy practices should consider speaking with their patients about these technologies to determine the best way of incorporating them in home practice. Of course, it is important to ensure that patients are using software that complements their treatment plan and is appropriately challenging. Vendors should consult with SLPs in the development of speech therapy apps or software, as the patients we surveyed highly value their therapists’ recommendations.
The detailed methodology for this report can be found here.
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