Occupational therapy (OT) for physical dysfunction helps patients remediate impairments and limitations by learning practical techniques to work around their challenges. It helps patients recovering from surgeries (e.g., joint replacement and other orthopedic surgeries,) rehabilitating after a stroke or cardiac event, or dealing with the loss of mobility due to chronic health conditions regain day-to-day functions and independence.
If you or a loved one is starting this recovery journey, you will first have an occupational therapy evaluation with your therapist. While an experienced professional will guide you through all the steps, knowing what you can expect will help you better prepare for the process and advocate for yourself. This can help you achieve your desired outcomes and maximize the benefits you get from the treatment.
Let’s examine what a typical evaluation process for occupational therapy for physical dysfunction includes. Keep in mind that there's a diverse range of occupational therapy frameworks, and the evaluation will vary based on your need and the severity of your challenges.
What To Expect During an Occupational Therapy Evaluation
Occupational therapy evaluations can range from 20 minutes to several hours. It generally includes these steps to help your therapist understand your current condition and needs:
Interview and Information Gathering
Your occupational therapist will review your medical records before the evaluation to learn about your medical condition. During the interview, the therapist will ask questions to fill in any information gaps. The details required will almost always include age, medical history, referring physician, the reason for referral, diagnosis, and precautions.
Your therapist will also talk with you to understand the details of your day-to-day life before the incident that prompted the need for OT. This topic is often referred to as the Prior Level of Function (PLOF) or Occupational Profile during this conversation.
Next, your therapist will perform a series of standardized assessments to learn about your general health and how your condition impacts your daily life. Some areas a therapist will assess include pain, vital signs, mental status, skin health, range of motion, muscle strength, tone, coordination, and proprioception. Your occupational therapist will select relevant assessments based on your conditions and goals.
The assessment format will vary depending on the nature of the referral and the environment for the assessment. For example, it may focus on hospital discharge planning, cognitive rehabilitation, ergonomic assessment, or return-to-work planning.
The assessment will help your therapist understand your pre-injury status and observe how you perform functional tasks in a real-world environment. Your occupational therapist will use the insights to identify specific skills that require improvement, develop a collaborative treatment plan, and write a report for the insurer and other healthcare providers for reimbursement and future care.
Decision: Whether OT Is Right for You
The information-gathering session and assessments help your occupational therapist identify how he or she can help you. You're a good candidate for occupational therapy for physical dysfunctions if:
- Your challenges will not resolve on their own and will require professional intervention.
- Your problems require a level of skills unique to an occupational therapist. For example, if a massage therapist or exercise coach could address the issue, your therapist should refer you to them.
- You demonstrate a high level of motivation to participate in OT and have the cognitive capacity to do so.
After your therapist has decided that OT is the right solution for your condition, he or she will work with you to set goals for your treatment based on established occupational therapy frameworks. These goals must be measurable and time-bound while relating to the reason for referral.
Your therapist will help you set both long-term and short-term goals. For example, a short-term objective could be "The client will be able to stand for 5-minute increment while brushing his teeth."
To get the most from your occupational therapy evaluation and subsequent treatment, you should be clear about your goals. Consider what you want to accomplish before the assessment and discuss it with your therapist. Also, ask for a copy of these goals after your evaluation. This step helps ensure that you and your therapist are on the same page and collaborating toward the same outcomes.
Next, your therapist will create a plan to help you accomplish the goals. Typically, it will include how often you'll receive OT, how long you should be getting treatment, and the strategies or occupational therapy framework she'll implement.
For example, a plan may state that "the client will receive OT three times a week for six weeks for therapeutic exercise and Activities of Daily Living (ADL) training." Often, this plan will be shared with and approved by a doctor.
How To Get the Most of Your Occupational Therapy Evaluation
Two-way communication is key to a successful occupational therapy evaluation. While your therapist will ask questions and gather information about you, you should also proactively ask questions to help you learn about the therapist's approach and decide if the services are a good fit.
Even though occupational therapists are trained to collect pertinent information, they won't get to know everything about you in a couple of hours. If there's something not covered by the evaluation (e.g., an area in your life impacted by the impairment,) be sure to bring it up. OT is a collaborative process, and your input is invaluable in helping your therapist succeed.
Additionally, you should have a thorough understanding of and feel comfortable with your treatment plan. If there's something that you don't understand, don't hesitate to ask. If you have questions before or after the evaluation, write them down and talk to your therapist.
Your active participation in an occupational therapy evaluation will help improve the outcome. Meanwhile, finding the right therapist and facility to support your rehab journey is key to a successful recovery. Our therapists at Rehab Select conduct thorough occupational therapy evaluations and design personalized protocols to meet our patients' needs. Schedule a tour to see how we can help.