Allied News Blog

How Occupational Therapy Is Changing During the Pandemic

May 01, 2020

Occupational therapists face many changes during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Leigh Morgan, contributor

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States, there have been more than 700,000 additional cases reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, many states have required non-essential businesses to close or change the way they do business. Some healthcare facilities have also canceled all elective procedures and appointments for routine care, forcing medical professionals to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. 

Here are the occupational therapy changes you need to know about as you serve your clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using telehealth to deliver OT services

With so many people staying at home to prevent the virus from spreading, occupational therapists are turning to telehealth to ensure their clients stay on track with their OT goals. The American Academy of Family Physicians defines telehealth as the use of technology to provide care at a distance. For travel occupational therapy professionals, the use of telehealth makes it possible to deliver OT interventions without exposing themselves — or their clients — to the 2019 novel coronavirus.

One of the major occupational therapy changes that has occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the relaxation of state telehealth policies. In some states, telehealth services aren't typically covered by Medicaid or other taxpayer-funded programs. To keep people at home without preventing them from receiving much-needed services, several states have changed their policies to provide telehealth coverage at least until the pandemic ends. For example, Alabama has temporarily extended telehealth coverage for speech therapists and occupational therapists.

If you're ready to put your skills to the test, visit Club Staffing to search for travel OT jobs throughout the country.

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Relaxation of licensing regulations

A few states have even relaxed their licensing regulations to ensure there are enough occupational therapists to meet the current demand for services. In Connecticut, the Department of Public Health issued an order stating that a professional license that is supposed to expire during the pandemic will not expire until six months after there's no longer a public health emergency. The mayor of Washington D.C. also issued an administrative order waiving the licensing fees for temporary agents. A temporary agent is defined as someone who has a professional license in another state and wants to practice in Washington D.C. on a temporary basis. These administrative changes could make it easier for travel OTs to provide care across state lines.

Shifting priorities

Occupational therapists around the country have found themselves taking on new roles during the COVID-19 crisis. In some hospitals, OTs have been asked to screen patients by taking their temperatures and asking them questions about whether they've been in contact with anyone who has the virus. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, it's important to be flexible during this unprecedented crisis. As long as you receive training and display competence in performing the assigned tasks, it's okay to perform these duties even if they're outside your normal job description. If you don't feel comfortable performing screening functions, ask your supervisor if there's anything else you can do to help.

Telecommuting

In response to the crisis, many allied-health professionals are now telecommuting from their home offices at least a few days per week. Telecommuting has several benefits for OT practitioners and their clients. For example, occupational therapists who work from home can keep up with their documentation, which can prevent delays in providing care when the pandemic is over and the social distancing requirements are no longer in place. Telecommuting also lets OT professionals stay in touch with their clients, enhancing continuity of care.

If you're used to traveling around the country, here are a few telecommuting tips for OTs to make things easier.

  • Set aside a dedicated work area to make it easier to balance your work life with your home life.
  • Keep your client files in a locked file cabinet or desk drawer to preserve your clients' privacy and remain in compliance with medical privacy regulations.
  • If you have a child or spouse at home while you're working, invest in a set of noise-canceling headphones to block out noise and make it easier to concentrate.
  • Make sure you understand your facility's telecommuting policy, if one is in place, to ensure you don't unknowingly violate any rules.

Ever since COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic, millions of people have had to adjust the way they work; occupational therapists are no exception. Keep these occupational therapy changes in mind as you work to deliver client-centered care during a public health emergency.

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Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html 

https://www.aafp.org/media-center/kits/telemedicine-and-telehealth.html

https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Advocacy/State/telehealth/state-actions-affecting-occupational-therapy-in-response-to-covid-19.pdf 

 


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