10 Must-Haves for Home Health Occupational Therapy
This post was originally published on November 3, 2016 and updated on June 5, 2019.
The other day, I was talking with a fellow occupational therapist I work with about her new position in home health. We quickly got on the subject of what every Home Health OT or COTA needs in their “toolbox.”
We came up with a few of the basics, but I felt like more could be added to the list.
I reached out to several Facebook Occupational Therapy groups and asked them, “What are your absolute must-haves when working as an OT or COTA in the home health setting?”
I got so many awesome responses from experienced home health therapists, and am excited to share them all with you.
These are the top 10 recommended home health must-haves!
1. Blood Pressure Cuff and Stethoscope
Along with a stethoscope and BP cuff, a quality pulse oximeter is also a must (and great for any setting) as you will likely be monitoring your patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure during your treatments. Often, your home health company will provide you with these. If not, you can find them on Amazon.
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 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 much, much dirtier than you would expect.
It’s much better to play it safe and bring these items every time to ensure you’re protected from whatever may be lurking 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 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 won’t have to pay for them out of your own pocket.
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. This folding stool from Amazon is low cost, lightweight, and can be easily wiped down after each visit.
A lot of home health therapists use a 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 you always want to play it safe!)
5. The OT Toolkit
One huge benefit is it provides you with treatment ideas and handouts for your home health patients. 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 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, check out my full review here.
6. Samples of Adaptive Equipment
Gone are the days when hospitals provided their patients with hip kits 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 one hip kit on Amazon and use it as your sample for all of your patients.
The hip kit (found on Amazon) contains a reacher, dressing stick, long handled shoe horn, sock aid, and long handled sponge. The kits are great for so many varieties of patients that have decreased mobility and they usually love testing 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 therapists recommend an accordion folder to easily organize 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, Mandy Chamberlain from Seniors Flourish also recommends community resource sheets to add to your folder.
These can include lists of medical supply stores, oxygen vendors, transportation services, DME closets or rentals, Meals on Wheels, and Senior community centers/services/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 on Amazon but more than likely your company should provide them for you.
If your company doesn’t provide Theraputty, you can make your own instead of buying it to save some cash. Making it yourself could also be a good 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. A Gait Belt
You never know the amount of physical assist the patient may need, so having your own gait belt is also an essential.
If you have to buy your own, I recommend one that is vinyl coated so it can be wiped down after each patient and also used in the shower.
The only downside to the vinyl gait belts versus the traditional cotton gait belts is that they don’t tighten up as well. I figure it’s worth being able to easily wipe it down instead of having to wash it all the time. I think a lot of companies are requiring the vinyl ones now anyway for infection control purposes.
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.
The UBE shown linked 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 awesome 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 it to the list.