Rehab Select Blog

Occupational Therapy in Acute Care: 8 Things to Expect

Posted by Bobby Stephenson

Jan 10, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Occupational Therapy in Acute Care

Although you may think of occupational therapists working mainly with people with chronic conditions over considerable time, they also can work in hospitals as part of acute care teams. In fact, over 27% of occupational therapists work in a hospital setting, largely supporting teams in emergency medicine, intensive care, critical care, urgent care, and trauma care.

To better understand the key role that these therapists play and how they can affect the acute care experience, it’s helpful to recognize dynamics of the care setting and the expertise occupational therapists provide.

What Exactly Is Acute Care?

Acute care is the branch of medicine that treats patients with critical medical conditions. A patient receiving acute care has had an emergency medical issue that needs immediate attention and may even be life-threatening. For example, heart attacks, stroke, and other serious injuries commonly require acute care.

The healthcare team in the acute care unit works under pressure to stabilize the patient, address life-threatening issues, and transition the patient to long-term rehabilitative care. A second goal is to improve the patient’s condition to prevent physical or cognitive complications. Unlike chronic care, which is a long-term process, acute care delivery is usually brief and is typically reserved for the hospital or emergency department setting.

Occupational Therapy in Acute Care

Occupational therapy in acute care helps patients who may have physical or cognitive impairments recover the ability to carry out the meaningful activities of daily living. Working as part of a healthcare team alongside doctors, nurses, a case manager, and others throughout the rehabilitative process, occupational therapists create a program that will help their patients do the things they need to do and the things they want to do.

Occupational therapy in acute care helps patients stabilize, mobilize, and experience a successful discharge from the acute care setting. Occupational therapy as part of acute inpatient rehab serves as a complement to other services provided in acute care settings.

Numerous studies have shown occupational therapy’s effectiveness in acute care settings. Occupational therapy can serve to combat significant neuromuscular complications in the long term. Also, occupational therapy can play a key role in early mobilization of patients in the intensive care unit to improve neuromuscular weakness and physical function. Another study involving organ transplant patients showed that just two hours of occupational therapy could reduce the level of medical assistance the patient would need over time. In the bigger picture, early occupational therapy interventions while patients are still in acute care can make a significant difference in their functioning while recovering.

8 Things to Expect from Occupational Therapy in Acute Care

We know that occupational therapy makes an impact in acute care, but what exactly do therapists do on a day-to-day basis? The answer is “Quite a bit.” Occupational therapy interventions can encompass everything from help with diet and eating to teaching self-care skills. Here are eight important activities occupational therapists can help patients with in the acute care setting:

1. Help with movement

Occupational therapists often train patients in safe ways to carry out a range of motion despite their limitations. They also may instruct families and caregivers on the best ways to support mobility of their loved one. For example, they may show ways to safely aid the patient during transfers in and out of a car.

2. Help with cognitive impairments

When a stroke or car accident leaves a patient with cognitive deficits, occupational therapists will often be the ones to teach proven compensatory techniques to make it easier to carry out meaningful activities of daily living despite the impairments.

3. Help with assistive devices

Occupational therapists will often assess and recommend the proper assistive devices for patients, from splints and positioning devices to wheelchairs. Occupational therapists also will teach patients how to use these devices properly to optimize their mobility.

4. Help with eating

Occupational therapists can help decide the type of diet the patient might need to eat while he or she is recovering and teach strategies for eating safely if chewing or swallowing has been impaired because of an illness or injury.

5. Help with self-care

Occupational therapists also work with patients who have limited ability with bathing, dressing, grooming, and other activities that preserve well-being. Here, too, they will teach compensatory strategies that can help the patient carry out these tasks safely while conserving energy.

6. Help with mental health

Managing mental health needs is an important part of helping patients function after an illness or injury. Occupational therapists are trained in providing mental health support during the recovery process. Occupational therapists often teach stress management techniques, coping methods, and goal setting.

7. Help with pediatric care

Occupational therapists will work with families to help children resume their normal activities at school and at home and strengthen socialization skills when needed. Occupational therapists work closely with the child and help to train families on reaching developmental goals.

8. Help with discharge planning

Occupational therapists in the acute care setting help develop a plan for a safe discharge and recommend the best ways to safely transition to the next level of care.

At Rehab Select, we provide interdisciplinary care, bringing together the expertise of occupational therapists, case managers, nurses, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and physicians to meet the patient’s needs. Our occupational therapists can create an individualized care plan and goals specific to your injury or illness. Depending on need, patients can receive personalized one-on-one treatment up to seven days a week for up to three hours a day.

Learn how Rehab Select can help meet you or your loved one’s occupational therapy needs during short-term and long-term rehabilitation at

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Topics: Occupational Therapy