Telehealth Occupational Therapy: An Emerging Frontier in Health Care

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on August 2, 2023
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Occupational therapy (OT) has traditionally been administered in person. However, the rise of technology and the need for remote healthcare access have birthed a new model—telehealth occupational therapy.

This innovative approach allows therapists to provide services remotely, using digital tools to interact with patients.

Given our extensive background in online mental health solutions and education, we are uniquely positioned at Online Mental Health Reviews to delve into this topic. We’re proud to have a team with experience as therapists, counselors, and workers in residential mental health facilities.

Our mission is to normalize mental health, guide readers through the noise online, and help them find the healthcare provider that’s best for them. With our expertise, we aim to provide you with an insightful and comprehensive look at telehealth occupational therapy.

So, whether you’re a healthcare professional looking to expand your practice or a patient seeking accessible therapy options, this article is for you. Let’s explore this innovative mode of delivering occupational therapy practice telehealth services together.

What is Telehealth Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Occupational Therapy via Telehealth

Telehealth OT is the delivery of occupational therapy services via telecommunication technologies.

It includes real-time video consultations, asynchronous communications, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health applications.

Telehealth OT practitioners can assess, treat, and monitor various health conditions, offering a flexible alternative to traditional in-person therapy.

Benefits: Telehealth Expanding in Occupational Therapy

Telehealth rapidly is expanding in occupational therapy clinics, bringing numerous benefits to practitioners and patients. The rise of telehealth in occupational therapy has been particularly noticeable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated a shift towards remote healthcare services.

  • One of the critical advantages of telehealth is its ability to reach patients who may need access to traditional, in-person therapy due to geographic or physical barriers. It offers greater flexibility and convenience, allowing patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their homes.
  • Telehealth also allows occupational therapists to expand their practices and reach a broader patient base. Moreover, it’s a cost-effective method of delivering healthcare services, reducing transportation costs and time spent traveling to and from appointments.
  • The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is actively advocating for expanded reimbursement for occupational therapy services delivered through telehealth. This would make it a more sustainable model for occupational therapist service delivery in the long run.

However, it’s important to note that telehealth may only be suitable for some occupational therapy interventions, particularly those requiring hands-on treatment. It’s crucial to assess each patient’s needs to determine whether telehealth is appropriate.

The Benefits of Telehealth OT

Telehealth OT offers numerous benefits over traditional OT:

  1. It increases access to care, especially for those living in rural areas or those who find it difficult to travel due to physical limitations or lack of transportation.
  2. Telehealth OT can be more cost-effective, reducing travel costs and time off work.
  3. Telehealth OT provides convenience and comfort as therapy can be received from the comfort of one’s home.

Research shows that telehealth outcomes can align with traditional OTs, suggesting its potential as a viable service delivery model.

Challenges and Considerations in Telehealth OT

While telehealth OT offers numerous benefits, it is unsuitable for all conditions or all individuals.

  • It requires therapists and patients to be comfortable with and have access to technology.
  • Additionally, some aspects of therapy, particularly those requiring physical touch or close observation, may be less practical when conducted virtually.
  • Some states may require hands-on assessment or intervention that cannot be provided remotely.
  • There are also potential risks to consider, including privacy and security concerns. Therapists must use secure platforms to protect their patient’s health information.

Research indicates that the quality of care provided through telehealth is comparable to in-person care, and in some cases, it may even be superior. However, the choice between telehealth and in-person visits should be based on individual patient needs and circumstances.

How Telehealth Differs from In-person OT

The shift from in-person to telehealth services in occupational therapy (OT) has been significant, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth and in-person OT differ in several ways:

  1. Firstly, telehealth offers greater flexibility and accessibility. Patients can receive therapy from the comfort of their homes or workplaces, eliminating the need for travel. This is especially beneficial for those with mobility issues or those living in remote areas.
  2. Secondly, telehealth can reduce the risk of infections by eliminating the need for physical contact. This has been particularly relevant during the pandemic.

Alternatives and Self-Care

  • Alternatives for those who cannot access telehealth OT include traditional in-person therapy or community-based rehabilitation programs.
  • Home exercise programs can also be highly beneficial.
  • Individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their health to prevent the need for therapy or early intervention. These include regular physical activity, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, stress management, and regular health check-ups.

OT Settings That Can Provide Telehealth

Occupational therapy (OT) settings that can provide telehealth occupational therapy services offered are diverse and flexible, allowing patients to receive the care they need virtually anywhere.

The most common settings for telehealth OT include home health, outpatient clinics, and community settings. Occupational therapy practitioners use telehealth in these environments to help their patients develop skills, establish routines, improve their health status, and modify their behaviors.

It’s worth noting that telehealth has significantly reduced delays in care, made it easier to connect with caregivers, and identified challenges within the home environment. Moreover, telehealth offers increased flexibility, higher career satisfaction, wider patient reach, and enhanced personal well-being.

However, there needs to be more clarity regarding the use of telehealth in some facility-based outpatient settings too. There are hesitations among occupational therapists about telehealth because occupational therapy is usually done in person.

To conclude, telehealth in OT has opened a new vista of possibilities, offering accessible and convenient therapy solutions to patients across different settings.

How to Improve Communication with Patients through Telehealth

Improving communication with patients through telehealth can significantly enhance the patient experience, fostering stronger patient-provider relationships and improving health outcomes.

  1. One of the critical elements of effective telehealth communication is empathy. Empathy goes a long way in driving satisfaction with the telehealth encounter. This involves active listening, showing understanding of the patient’s concerns, and offering reassurance.
  2. Another strategy is utilizing the chat function for timely feedback and coaching. This can be particularly useful for clarifying information or addressing immediate patient inquiries.
  3. Further, incorporating best practices like the Teach-Back method can help patients understand health information. This involves asking patients to explain the data to the provider in their own words, allowing the provider to confirm understanding and clarify any misconceptions.
  4. Additionally, using tools to increase the rate of patient communication, such as appointment reminders and updates, can enhance patient engagement and adherence to treatment plans.

However, it’s essential to know telehealth etiquette when connecting with clients. This includes being punctual for appointments, maintaining professionalism, and ensuring privacy during virtual consultations.

The Hesitation: Why Aren’t More OTs Doing Telehealth?

Despite its potential benefits and increasing demand, several factors contribute to the hesitation of occupational therapists (OTs) to embrace telehealth fully.

  1. Firstly, profitability is a significant concern. Many providers find telehealth less profitable due to revenue loss and the high costs of implementing and maintaining the necessary technology.
  2. Secondly, regulatory barriers can deter OTs from adopting telehealth. State-level obstacles can complicate telehealth implementation, even though these services could offer more personalized care.
  3. Thirdly, the research points out the potential pitfalls of telehealth, such as minority health disparities, privacy concerns, and the challenge of establishing a therapeutic relationship in a virtual environment.

Despite these challenges, it’s important to note that telehealth has effectively improved physical and behavioral health outcomes. Furthermore, patients appear to be satisfied with the quality of remote care, with a survey revealing that 91% of patients prefer telemedicine for common ailments.

Convince Your Team to Incorporate Elements of Teletherapy

Incorporating teletherapy into an existing practice can offer numerous benefits. As videoconferencing technology improves, the potential for virtual mental health support grows.

However, convincing your routine to make this shift may require a well-rounded argument.

  1. Firstly, highlight the benefits of teletherapy. It offers increased accessibility for patients with difficulty attending in-person appointments due to geographical or physical limitations. Teletherapy also allows therapists to engage with clients in their environment, which can provide valuable context for treatment.
  2. Secondly, emphasize the effectiveness of teletherapy. Research shows that teletherapy can be as effective as traditional therapy, especially when incorporating evidence-based practices such as journaling. Moreover, employers are recognizing the value of these teletherapy services in enhancing productivity and are integrating them into benefits packages.
  3. However, it’s crucial to address concerns about transitioning to teletherapy. These might include maintaining patient privacy, managing technical difficulties, and adjusting therapeutic techniques for a virtual environment. Assure your practice that resources are available to navigate these challenges, such as training on telepsychology and advice on legal and ethical issues.
  4. Finally, suggest a gradual approach to incorporating teletherapy. This might involve starting with a few weekly virtual appointments, gradually increasing as therapists and patients become comfortable with the new format.

Evidence-Based Practice: The Growing Research Base for Telehealth Occupational Therapy

The field of telehealth is experiencing rapid growth in terms of its research base, with a particular focus on evidence-based practice. This dynamism is illustrated by various studies exploring the effectiveness and potential of telehealth across different healthcare disciplines.

Based on my research, here is a comprehensive list of studies and articles that support the growing research base for telehealth occupational therapy:

  1. Telehealth in paediatric occupational therapy: A scoping review
    • This study explores the nature and scope of telehealth in paediatric occupational therapy intervention research. It includes 22 paediatric telehealth studies conducted between January 2000 and April 2020.
    • Link to Study
  2. Information and communications technology-based telehealth approach for occupational therapy interventions for cancer survivors: a systematic review
    • This systematic review examines the use of telehealth for evaluation and intervention in occupational therapy for cancer survivors. It highlights the positive outcomes and supports telehealth as one of the service delivery models in occupational therapy.
    • Link to Study
  3. Telehealth in occupational therapy: A scoping review
    • This scoping review focuses on telehealth services in occupational therapy across various countries. It discusses the need for more studies in this area, particularly for neurological diagnoses.
    • Link to Study
  4. Evidence for the use of telehealth in pediatric occupational therapy
    • This review examines the evidence for using telehealth in pediatric occupational therapy. It highlights that a significant portion of the studies reviewed focused on discipline-specific outcome measures and emphasizes the importance of considering satisfaction studies in this context.
    • Link to Study
  5. Stimulating research to advance evidence-based applications of telehealth in occupational therapy
    • This article discusses the need for more research in telehealth for occupational therapy, considering different populations and caregivers’ preferences. It highlights the importance of advancing evidence-based applications through telehealth studies.
    • Link to Article
  6. Parent perspectives of an occupational therapy telehealth intervention
    • This study explores parent perspectives on occupational therapy telehealth interventions. It provides insights into designing and tailoring telehealth services based on these perspectives and highlights the need for further research.
    • Link to Study
  7. Telehealth and occupational therapy: Integral to the triple aim of health care reform
    • This article emphasizes the role of telehealth in occupational therapy and its importance in healthcare reform. It discusses the omission of occupational therapy practitioners from some studies and highlights the significant role telehealth plays in achieving the triple aim of health care.
    • Link to Article
  8. Feasibility and effectiveness of telehealth occupational therapy home modification interventions
    • This study examines the feasibility of telehealth occupational therapy home modification interventions. It contributes to the growing evidence base by exploring the effectiveness of telehealth in this specific area of occupational therapy.
    • Link to Study
  9. Patient satisfaction with telehealth in rural settings: a systematic review
    • This systematic review focuses on patient satisfaction with telehealth services, including occupational therapy. It highlights high levels of patient satisfaction with telehealth and emphasizes its positive impact on healthcare delivery in rural settings.
    • Link to Study
  10. The transition to telehealth occupational therapy practice: Lessons learned
    • This article discusses the lessons learned from the transition to telehealth occupational therapy practice. It emphasizes the importance of considering different service delivery models and provides insights into integrating telehealth in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language therapy.
    • Link to Article

Please note that these studies and articles provide valuable insights into the use and effectiveness of telehealth in occupational therapy.

It is essential to review each source for a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Safety First: Increase Your Safety with Telehealth

Telehealth has emerged as a safe and effective way to provide healthcare services. However, like any form of healthcare delivery, it’s essential to prioritize safety.

To increase your safety with telehealth, consider the following steps:

  1. Ensure a Secure Connection: Use a secure internet connection to protect your personal health information. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks when possible.
  2. Use Trusted Platforms: Use telehealth platforms known for their security measures and comply with health information privacy laws.
  3. Prepare for Your Appointment: Ensure you’re in a quiet, private space without being distracted or interrupted.
  4. Be Open and Honest: Provide accurate and complete information about your health status and medical history to ensure you receive appropriate care.
  5. Understand the Limits: Telehealth can’t replace all in-person visits. Know when to seek in-person care, especially in emergencies.
  6. Follow Up: If you have concerns or questions after a telehealth visit, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

Telehealth offers immense potential to improve access to care. Still, it’s essential to prioritize safety. By taking these steps; you can make the most of your telehealth experiences while protecting your health and well-being.

Role Clarification: Can COTAs Provide Telehealth?

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) are crucial in providing occupational therapy services. However, whether COTAs can provide telehealth services is complex and depends on several factors.

  1. Firstly, it’s important to note that telehealth legislation varies significantly from state to state. In some states, COTAs can provide telehealth services under certain conditions. For example, school-based occupational therapy assistants in New York could deliver telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. However, in other states, therapy assistants may be prohibited from providing telehealth services. Additionally, even when legally permitted, the practical implementation of telehealth by COTAs can be challenging due to technology access and patient comfort with virtual services.
  3. It’s also worth noting that the standards for practicing occupational therapy, including telehealth practice, hold COTAs accountable for delivering high-quality, ethical, equitable, and just healthcare. Therefore, COTAs providing telehealth services must meet these standards like their OT counterparts.

Given these complexities, it’s recommended that COTAs interested in providing telehealth services consult with their state governments, regulatory boards, or professional associations to understand their area’s specific guidelines and requirements.

Telehealth Occupational Therapy Conclusion

Telehealth OT is an exciting development in the field of occupational therapy. While it is not without its challenges, it offers immense potential to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve patient satisfaction.

To learn more about telehealth, consider our articles covering accessibility, Medi-Cal, Medicaid, behavioral, for anxiety, urgent care, Georgia, Florida, and occupational therapy.

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If You’re In An Emergency

If you are in a critical situation, waiting for an online therapy session may not be advisable. In such instances where immediate assistance is required, please dial 911. If you’re contemplating self-harm or harming others, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. They’re available around the clock to offer help.

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