Improving autism spectrum disorder diagnosis with telehealth

Improving autism spectrum disorder diagnosis with telehealth

Telehealth can help to accelerate the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a new study has shown.

A survey carried out by experts from Swansea University Medical School has shown that telehealth in the form of online tools and assessments can help to speed up autism diagnosis and has the potential to improve services in autism care.

The research, which is the first to review the existing literature on the use of telehealth to support autism diagnosis, has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Improving diagnosis speed

Currently, diagnosing autism can take several years due to a shortage of expertise, and the need for specialist services that can require a lot of travelling for families.

Initially surveying twenty years’ worth of research in fields related to autism and telehealth, the team then narrowed down an initial sample of 3700 articles to a set of ten for close study.

They examined which telehealth approaches have been used in the diagnosis and assessment of ASD in children and adults and how they compare with face-to-face methods.

The review revealed two main approaches to using telehealth:

1. Real-Time method: such as, videoconferencing, which enables a range of health professionals in different areas to meet in real-time with the family to assess the child or adult, reducing the need for travel or multiple appointments

2. Store-and-Forward method: this involves providing a way for parents or carers to upload videos of a child’s behaviour to a web portal, enabling clinicians to see a child in their everyday surroundings, to better inform the assessment.

The team found benefits to both methods, showing that they are acceptable to both families and clinicians, have good diagnostic accuracy, enable families from a wider area to access professionals and reduce costs for accessing care. They also demonstrated that these methods enable the natural behaviours in the home setting to be observed, as well as allowing for both parents in divorced families to contribute to the diagnostic process.

Professor Sinead Brophy of Swansea University Medical School said: “Telehealth can potentially improve the efficiency of the diagnosis process for ASD. The evidence reviewed in our study shows that it can reduce delays and improve outcomes when used in conjunction with existing methods. It could be of particular benefit to those with clear autism traits and adults with ASD.

“Telehealth methods allow for collaboration and the sharing of experiences between the family, education and ASD experts. They can be just as good as face-to-face methods in terms of satisfaction for the patient, family and clinician.”

Primary author, Manahil Alfuraydan of Swansea University Medical School, said: “They reduce the time to diagnosis, particularly for those with more severe autism where there is good agreement in terms of the diagnosis compared to the face to face methods. Our study highlights the potential of telehealth. Larger randomised controlled trials of this technology in relation to ASD are warranted.”

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