Occupational therapists are in greater demand than ever before, and schools, hospitals, and outpatient programs are struggling to provide patients with the therapy they need. That’s why provider systems are considering the possibility that video-based services could help patients with long-term OT needs receive ongoing therapy without direct provider interaction.
With proper, video training and intermittent oversight, parents and other family members can also participate and can help provide treatment typically provided by OTs.
Though OT and PT care are often short-term needs, in other cases, individuals may require such treatment for months or even years. A recent study of stroke patients receiving in-home OT via telehealth, for example, showed that patients recovered as well using those services as they did when receiving in-clinic care. This treatment was also more affordable and eliminated major barriers to treatment for patients who struggled to travel or lived far from a facility.
Children with physical and developmental disabilities are among the most likely to require long-term occupational or physical therapy, whether they’re doing exercises to improve posture, practicing fine motor skills, or relaxing spastic muscles. Parents are typically involved in providing at least supplemental OT/PT for their disabled children, so training them to provide the majority of it is a sensible extension of that care.
Where Training Meets Telehealth
OT and PT are both provided via telehealth services, at least in some circumstances, and video systems are also used to train occupation and physical therapists. During training, both providers typically record sessions and view sample exercises performed by experienced therapists to learn the appropriate protocols. Those same professional videos can be used to train parents and family members to perform treatments at home, rather than calling on outside providers multiple times a week.
Occupational therapists have struggled to attract interest in telehealth services, despite growth in other healthcare sectors, but the growing shortage of OTs could force patients to accept alternative services. Though it’s understandable that fragile patients in need of short-term care might wish to take advantage of in-person services, for families using these programs long-term, telehealth-based OT and PT could be pitched as an appealing alternative to frequent clinic visits.
Creating A Home Therapy Environment
Teaching family members to provide OT/PT care, but creating an environment that facilitates long-term care can be challenging. In addition to learning to perform exercises and activities, parents should be trained to use support strategies such as consistent rewards for perseverance, visual schedules, and implementation of a daily sensory diet for children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. Parents who actively participate in the OT/PT process also tend to feel more empowered when trying to navigate assessments and services. They don’t need to lead the process, but they should feel comfortable helping, setting goals, and assessing their child’s progress, because they know their own children best.
OT and PT care are a key part of supporting the growth and development of children with developmental and physical disabilities, as well as care for people recovering from injuries, brain damage, and other health issues, but there aren’t enough practitioners to provide that care. In many cases, though, patients don’t need full-time professionals leading their care; just as the average patient is expected to practice PT exercises at home, parents and family members can easily lead the way during OT/PT care – and make daily life feel less clinical in the process.