telehealth occupational therapy

Telehealth and Occupational Therapy: A New Frontier

Telehealth, also known as teletherapy, is becoming an exciting new avenue for providing occupational therapy services in a variety of settings.

For those not entirely familiar with telehealth, what is it?

Telehealth, as defined by The Center for Connected Health Policy,

“Encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services.”

Telehealth is not a service in and of itself, but is instead a means to provide medical services, like occupational therapy, through different forms of technology.

These include real-time, two-way video calling through computers, smart phones, or tablets, email or text communications, and virtual transmission of recorded video to and from patient/practitioner.

These new means offer OT clinicians increased methods to provide education and intervention for individuals in need of OT services.

Benefits of Telehealth Expanding in Occupational Therapy

Telehealth in occupational therapy offers a huge benefit for those in rural areas who might not otherwise have access to OT services.

With telehealth, patients and occupational therapists alike can reduce extremely long travel times and greatly increase the reach of OT. This benefits the patients as well as the therapists that traditionally drove long distances from home to home.

Teleheath also offers the convenience of staying at home and avoiding the annoyances of traffic, parking, commutes and long waits in waiting rooms.

OT Settings That Can Provide Telehealth

While occupational therapy is often thought of as a hands-on profession – especially in rehab settings – there are many settings that can benefit from using telehealth when appropriate.

Some settings that may benefit from telehealth services include:

  • Children and Youth
  • Health Promotion/Health and Wellness
  • Early Intervention
  • Home Health
  • Home Modifications and Aging in Place
  • Mental Health
  • Outpatient Neuro Rehab

(Source: Telehealth Opportunities in Occupational Therapy Through the Affordable Care Act, AJOT)

telehealth-consultation-occupational-therapy

Some Drawbacks of Telehealth in Occupational Therapy

While telehealth opens many doors for patients that cannot access OT services, there are a few possible cons to using it as well.

HIPAA

With the increased use of technology, more patient information is online and could be compromised. Because of this, clinicians need to be hyper-aware and safeguard any patient information in order to stay “hip to HIPAA.”

License Portability

Another drawback of providing telehealth is currently the lack of OT license portability.

At this time, OTs can only provide telehealth services to patients in states where an OT license is held. Obtaining and maintaining licenses in multiple states is costly and cumbersome, so at this time telehealth in one’s home state is generally the easiest option.

Some good news on this is that AOTA announced in September 2019 that they are going to work with NBCOT and the Council of State Governments to create an interstate licensure compact to make it easier for OT clinicians to practice in multiple states.

Unfortunately, they expect this won’t be implemented until 2024, so at this point in time, OTs will still have to obtain a license in each state they wish to practice telehealth in.

There’s an Advantage for Hands-On Therapy

And lastly, as I briefly mentioned above, some occupational therapy settings have to be hands-on. In acute rehab, for example, we are often hands-on with ADL retraining, transfer training, balance activities, neuro-re-ed, etc.

In many outpatient settings, such as hand therapy, OTs often need to be with the person to evaluate, perform manual therapy, or fabricate splints.

Because of this, telehealth won’t work in all settings. There will always be patients that will need our in-person services. But for those who will benefit more from our education instead of hands-on training, telehealth will provide many new avenues and an increase in occupational therapy services provided.

Getting Started in Telehealth

If you’re interested in working as a teletherapist and are in a setting that would benefit from telehealth, be sure to check out the following resources to learn more about how you can get started:

AOTA’s Telehealth Resources Page

AOTA created a page chock full of helpful telehealth articles, ranging from professional guidance articles, a Telehealth Q&A series, and practice articles. All of this information is free to both members and non-members.

“OT and Telehealth in the Age of COVID-19”

AOTA also created this helpful article for OT practitioners looking to start telehealth services to practice OT safely in the times of COVID-19. It’s definitely worth checking out as it includes helpful information on current rules/regulations and Medicare’s teletherapy reimbursement information.

Telehealth Occupational Therapy Guide

Sarah Lyon from OT Potential has done a terrific job compiling up to date information regarding telehealth in OT. The guide includes comprehensive information on getting started in telehealth, reimbursement info, telehealth research and platforms that can provide telehealth services. 

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If you’re still looking for more about what it’s like to be an OT working in telehealth, be sure to check out our article, A Day in the Life Working in OT Teletherapy featuring telehealth occupational therapist Rachel Morris, OTR/L.

Have you worked in telehealth or have you considered trying it out? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

This article was originally published on May 15, 2017 and updated on April 23, 2020.

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4 comments

  • Analiza Fajardo September 15, 2019   Reply →

    Hi, thank you for sharing your work day as an OT working in telehealth. I am a working mom and has been a therapist in geriatrics for 12 yrs and has 2 yrs experience in pediatrics before i went to geriatrics. I would like to go back to pediatrics because i miss it. Will someone hire me now that my pediatric experience was 10 yrs ago?any advice?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L September 18, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Analiza, I personally don’t work in telehealth but if you’re interested in transitioning into it, you should definitely try to go for it, after doing some continuing ed to brush up on pediatrics. You could also reach out to the telehealth companies to ask for their advice on what they’re looking for and how to get started. If you do an Indeed.com search for “Telehealth Occupational Therapy” you should find some positions. I know the following companies also have telehealth OT positions: Global Teletherapy, ELuma Online Therapy, and E-therapy.com. I hope this helps and best of luck to you!

  • Katie Ware January 30, 2020   Reply →

    Hi there, I am very excited about this emerging field as well. I have 19 years experience as an OT in the SNF and homecare fields combined and will be a certified dementia specialist in a few weeks (waiting on the certificate in the mail!) . Are there any other companies besides school based where telehealth is emerging? I would think working with families for dementia training, energy conservation and the like would be valuable. Any guidance is appreciated. Katie

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 3, 2020   Reply →

      That’s great about your dementia specialist certification! I think adult-based OT telehealth positions are a bit less frequent than school-based, but definitely keep checking Indeed.com, Zip Recruiter and Google regularly for postings that pop up so you can get a lead on applying when they do come up.

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