Telehealth and Occupational Therapy

Telehealth and Occupational Therapy

The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak of 2020 prompted healthcare professionals globally to shift from a face-to-face to a telehealth service delivery design due to the restrictions put in place by the World Health Organization to contain the spread of the virus (Dahl-Popolizio et al., 2020). Telehealth refers to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as computers, the internet, and cellular phones, to deliver consultative, preventative, evaluative, and therapeutic services (Sprianu et al., 2022). Telehealth involves the use of ICTs to provide digital access to healthcare professionals remotely. The outbreak of the pandemic intensified the use of ICTs to connect health professionals with their patients worldwide. To adhere to the restrictions laid down by the World Health Organization changes to healthcare policies across the world were made to accommodate the use of telehealth services, such as the offering of occupational, physical, and speech therapy practitioners through the use of ICTs. The use of telehealth services has resulted in numerous benefits for allied health practitioners, including the enhanced capacity to address a broad range of patient diagnoses, increased patient therapy, and interaction outcomes, increased access to patients across the world, and enhanced health and well being of patients (Sprianu et al., 2022). Therefore, telehealth services have provided a platform for occupational therapists to offer their services remotely to clients, especially those in rural underserved areas.

According to Dahl-Popolizio et al. (2020), telehealth services for occupation therapy have equally proven to be as effective as face-to-face sessions in addressing stress-related issues, treating depression, and enhancing functionality in daily activities to improve the quality of life. Telehealth services have been utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitated the delivery of therapy services to clients whose conditions would worsen without constant care.

Adopting telehealth services when containment measures, such as social distancing and wearing of face masks were implemented, contributed to reduced patient visits to hospitals and clinics, reduced readmission rates, protected high-risk patients, such as the elderly, in nursing homes from exposure to the virus, and facilitated early discharge from clinics and hospitals (Dahl-Popolizio et al., 2020). Nevertheless, the barriers that limit the adoption of telehealth services included factors such as liability, cyber security and privacy, inadequate training, licensure, and access to ICTs. Accessibility to ICTs is a common barrier, especially in the elderly populations who have limited knowledge and access to digital telehealth services (Sprianu et al., 2022). However, through effective communication and preparation between health professionals and their clients, telehealth services can be used to deliver various interventions in occupational therapy. Strategies, such as education and teach-backs, patient helplines, post-follow-up care, asynchronous and synchronous monitoring of conditions, and remote management of conditions, can be applied to enhance the use of telehealth services (Dahl-Popolizio et al., 2020). According to Sprianu et al. (2022), occupational therapists use telehealth services to assist their patients to develop routines, skills, and habits, enhancing their health statuses, transforming their living environments, and educating them on strategies and methods of maximizing the patients’ independence, and self-management abilities.

ICTs utilized to provide telehealth services include sensor technologies, telephone, video, and audio technologies, digital cameras, the internet, email, and others (Sprianu et al., 2022). These technologies have been used by health professionals to provide occupational therapy services asynchronously and synchronously to patients. Telehealth services increase access to care through the diversity of the available technologies that can be implemented. In occupational therapy, telehealth services are used in education, intervention, and exacerbation of the patient’s

issues and conditions. Telehealth services enable consultation and collaboration with other professionals, which expands the knowledge base hence facilitating the coordination of care. Occupational therapists are adopting telehealth services in several practice settings including schools, early intervention, private practice, burn units, clinics and hospitals, mental health, and outpatient and inpatient settings (Sprianu et al., 2022). The use of telehealth services in all these settings has resulted in increased access to care services and provided care to those who are unable to attend face-to-face sessions (Tenforde et al., 2020). Additionally, telehealth services have resulted in other benefits, including flexible scheduling, cost savings, and the ability to provide services effectively to remote patients.

Moreover, the use of telehealth services increases patient engagement in the process of occupational therapy without having to readjust to the office settings as in the case of in-person sessions (Tenforde et al., 2020). It also increases access to patients as the commuting time of occupational therapists and patients provides time for patients in remote areas to receive increased access to services. This is because occupational therapists can use telehealth services to conduct wheelchair evaluations, orthopedic consultations, hand functionality evaluations, activities of daily living (ADL) evaluations, adaptive equipment, mobility assessments, training, and many others (Dahl-Popolizio et al., 2020). Traditionally, occupational therapists directly contribute to the well-being of the general population as they are trained to address patients’ challenges, enhance their performance patterns and skills, transform contexts and environment, and promote body functionality and interactions in various occupations, which in turn promote the health of the general public by enhancing the quality of life (Tenforde et al., 2020). With the introduction of telehealth services, occupational therapists can now provide interventions that enable self-management of chronic conditions, and behavioral health issues, and provide

opportunities for implementing behavioral health screenings, care coordination and promoting health and wellness.


Dahl-Popolizio, S., Carpenter, H., Coronado, M., Popolizio, N. J., & Swanson, C. (2020). Telehealth for the provision of occupational therapy: Reflections on experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Telerehabilitation, 12(2), 77.

Sprianu, C., Krpalek, D., Kugel, J. D., Bains, G., & Gharibvand, L. (2022). COVID-19 and Telehealth Use Among Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech-language Pathology Practitioners in the United States. Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, 20(2), 20.

Tenforde, A. S., Borgstrom, H., Polich, G., Steere, H., Davis, I. S., Cotton, K., … & Silver, J. K. (2020). Outpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapy synchronous telemedicine: a survey study of patient satisfaction with virtual visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.

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