10 Must-Haves for Home Health Occupational Therapy
As I was talking with one of my OT coworkers about her new job working as a home health OT, we quickly got on the subject of what every home health occupational therapist or COTA needs in their home health “toolbox.”
We came up with a few of the basics, but I felt like more could be added to the list. So, I reached out to several Occupational Therapy Facebook groups, as well as a few OT forums, and asked, “What are your absolute must-haves when working as an OT or COTA in the home health setting?”
I got so many great responses from experienced home health therapists, and am excited to share them all with you.
So without further ado, here are the top 10 recommended home health must-haves for occupational therapists and COTAs!
Note: This article contains affiliate links. Items purchased through these links may result in a small commission at no additional cost to you. All proceeds go directly back into the website.
1. Vital Signs Devices (Blood Pressure Cuff, Stethoscope, Pulse Ox)
Along with a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, a quality pulse oximeter is also a must (and is great for any adult-based setting) as you will likely be monitoring your patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure during your treatments. Since some home health companies are starting to require temperature checks as well, I’m adding in a digital forehead thermometer here for good measure.
Often, your home health company will provide you with these items. If not, you can find low cost but high quality vital signs devices on Amazon (these will almost always be cheaper than CVS or Walgreens, in my experience).
2. Tote Bag
Since you’ll be bringing all of your own therapy materials, make sure you have a good sized bag to carry it all! When you’re first starting out, you may be tempted to bring everything but the kitchen sink.
Try to only bring the bare necessities at first and be mindful of making sure your bag isn’t too heavy so you can practice safe body mechanics.
The great thing about working in home health is that most homes have a lot of functional items already there (including many fine motor activities) for your use during treatments.
3. Hand Sanitizer/Soap, Non-Latex Gloves, and PDI Wipes
Working in people’s homes means working in environments that may be spotless or, more likely, may be dirtier than when you’re in a sterile hospital setting.
It’s much better to play it safe and bring these items every time to ensure you’re protected from whatever may be lurking in or on surfaces.
Your patients may have just been discharged from the hospital or rehab with MRSA, C-diff, or something else that you don’t want to contract. Whether you’re aware of the infection or not, it’s best practice to wipe everything down after patient use.
To make your life easier (and safer!), make sure everything you bring in can be wiped down with PDI wipes for your safety. Please note that the purple-top PDI wipes are not good for C-diff infections; you’ll also want to have the orange-top PDI bleach wipes for that.
Stocking up on just these items can add up in price fast, so try to make sure you get as much as you can from your home health company. This way you’ll have one less thing to pay for out of your own pocket.
Another money-saving option that some home health therapists do is to make your own DIY sanitizing alcohol spray instead (recipe here).
Lastly, since 2020 we’ve all been more cautious about respiratory droplets. I did a ton of research on the most effective KN95 masks, and I still use this KN95 brand when I want to be safe from just about any type of respiratory illness.
4. Folding Step Stool
A small step stool is a great option for you to sit on, in case the home you visit has questionable seating surfaces and/or if the patient’s home has bedbugs. This folding stool is low cost, lightweight, and can be easily wiped down after each visit.
A lot of home health therapists use their stool to place their tote bag on as well so it doesn’t touch the floor, but I’ve also heard of using wax paper or newspaper to place your bag on when you’re using the stool. (I promise not every home needs this much in the way of precautions, but it never hurts to play it safe!)
5. The Occupational Therapy Toolkit
One huge benefit of the OT Toolkit is that it provides you with treatment ideas and handouts for your home health patients, without you having to endlessly search online, saving you a lot of time. It includes topics like home exercise programs, ADL retraining and adaptive equipment, managing medication and MD appointments, energy conservation techniques, home exercise programs, and more.
The OT Toolkit pretty much covers almost any concern/topic of education you may have for your patient and their caregivers.
For more on why I love the OT Toolkit, you can check out my full review here.
6. Samples of Adaptive Equipment
Gone are the days when hospitals provided their patients with hip kits to take home, at no charge. Now we get to demonstrate the value of adaptive equipment and have the patient try it out before they buy.
If your companies don’t have any adaptive equipment for you, you can buy a single hip kit on Amazon and use it as your sample for all of your patients.
This standard hip kit contains a reacher, dressing stick, long handled shoe horn, sock aid, and a long handled sponge. The kits are great for so many varieties of patients that have decreased mobility and they usually love testing them out and seeing the value of the sock aid and dressing stick during lower body dressing tasks.
You can also add a leg lifter to the kit for patients to try out that have trouble getting their legs in and out of bed.
7. Accordion Folder
Many home health therapists recommend an accordion folder to easily organize your notes, standardized tests and handouts for your patients. The accordion binder folds easily and protects your documents from crinkles and spills.
Along with home exercise handouts for your home health patients, my friend Mandy Chamberlain from OT Flourish also recommends adding community resource sheets for your folder. These resource sheets can include lists of medical supply stores, oxygen vendors, transportation services, DME closets or rentals, Meals on Wheels, and senior community centers/services/support groups.
8. Therabands and Theraputty
You’ll want to bring the full range of resistances so you can grade the exercises up or down depending on the patient’s needs.
Many of the home health therapists that recommend Therabands and Theraputty say their home health companies provided these for the patients to keep at no extra cost.
If your company does not, you can purchase Therabands yourself on Amazon but more than likely your company should provide them for you.
If your company doesn’t provide Theraputty, you can also make your own instead of buying it to save some money. Making it yourself could also be a good functional activity to do with your patient prior to administering it to them. Since it can’t really be sanitized, you’ll want to make a batch for each patient that needs it.
9. Gait Belt
You never know the amount of physical assist the patient may need during transfers or mobility, so having your own gait belt to use with each patient is essential for everyone’s safety.
If you have to buy your own, I recommend one that is vinyl coated like this one so that it can be wiped down after each patient and can also be used in the shower.
10. Portable UBE
The UBE, or upper body ergometer, may be a controversial treatment option since it isn’t truly occupation based. Even so, it still can be a good tool for certain patients to increase activity tolerance, cardiovascular endurance, and arm strength/ROM that may not otherwise be possible to address otherwise in the home due to lack of equipment.
This UBE, like the one shown, above is lightweight and easy to carry with you for those patients that would benefit from it.
And there you have the most recommended “must-haves” for home health occupational therapists and COTAs! I want to thank everyone so much for their contributions on this list!
I couldn’t have done it without the help of the wonderful home health OTs and COTAs out there, and I hope any of you new to home health found this list useful.
If I missed any crucial items, please let me know in the comments below and I can add them to the list.
This post was originally published on November 3, 2016 and last updated on February 17, 2024