Telehealth is becoming an exciting new avenue for providing occupational therapy services in a variety of settings.
So what is telehealth?
As defined by The Center for Connected Health Policy…
“Telehealth 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 Growing 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 necessary.
Some settings that may benefit include:
- Children and Youth
- Health Promotion/Health and Wellness
- Early Intervention
- Home Health
- Home Modifications and Aging in Place
- Mental Health
- Outpatient Neuro Rehab
Drawbacks of Telehealth in Occupational Therapy
While telehealth opens many doors for patients that cannot access OT services, there are a few cons to using it as well.
With 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 to stay “hip to HIPAA.”
Another drawback 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 only option.
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 from our education instead of hands-on training, telehealth will provide many new avenues and an increase in services provided.
For more on what it’s like to be an OT using telehealth, check out this article on a day in the life of a telehealth OT. The post outlines a typical day of an OT providing handwriting interventions for school-aged children.
Have you worked in telehealth or considered trying it out? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!