Developing Internet-Based Occupational Therapy Services
The internet has become a tool for occupational therapists to use to provide access to occupational therapy for a variety of different patient populations. While the internet is a powerful occupational therapy tool, many concerns need to be addressed to ensure that beneficial, ethical, and accessible online occupational therapy is delivered.
Before you Begin…
Consult your local and federal laws and guidelines. Every country has different guidelines in regards to what it allows and what is not allowed to be provided online for therapy. After this is completed, you can identify and adapt services that are allowed to your private practice.
Identify who your clients are and what their needs are
The next step is to ask your current client’s needs are and how an internet-based occupational therapy service can provide those needs. In a recent survey of services for caregivers of individuals who received occupational therapy services, it was found that none of the reviewed websites offered personalized care. Henderson & Chiu (2003) found that there wasn’t space where caregivers could ask questions and receive needed support in the community, hence the need for internet-based occupational therapy. This is important to help meet the needs of your clients and help them adjust to telepractice
Use this checklist for choosing a platform
When choosing platforms to provide online occupational therapy, OT’s should examine the security of the platforms in relation to the mandated guidelines of the areas they are providing service from and to. It is best to make sure that you have:
- Secure internet procedures such as internet security via firewalls.
- Have password-protected devices for both the clinician and the patient.
- Implement and use secure information storage & backup procedures.
- Have a clear professional code of ethics that you will be following to the protection of client information and confidentiality of treatment.
Define the Purpose of Service
Just like how a non-internet-based occupational therapy service should address its end goals, an internet-based occupational therapy service should do the same (Chiu & Henderson, 2005). This could look like one or a set of purpose statements: i.e. my services will help clients learn skills needed to get back to work or schooling. By clearly stating your service’s purpose, clients can have a better understanding of the service you are providing and whether it will meet their needs.
Develop and layout a plan
Developing a therapeutic service plan helps keep goals aligned between therapist and client. After an assessment, the occupational therapist should communicate and show the client what can be done to help the client meet their treatment goals.
We advise using a visual-based approach, using clear graphical representations of the therapeutic process and what the client and therapist both need to do in order for the client to achieve their goals. Arrows should be used to show the steps of the occupational therapy program, with comments on what services are being provided and what treatment results should be expected. Any language used in the visual should be concise and use common language so that the client understands the message being communicated.
Clients and caregivers can use this visual representation to ask questions about how occupational therapy services are being provided, their individual treatment goals, and their progress in occupational therapy. This provides clarity for both the client and the occupational therapist, and facilitates dialogue between the occupational therapist and their client.
Identify a client’s platform requirements
Occupational therapists providing online occupational therapy services should be mindful of how clients will be accessing and interacting with the online platform chosen. The occupational therapist should consider:
- Is the platform accessible for the clients being served? How will clients access this platform from their home or another environment?
- Is the platform user friendly? Are clients able to engage with the platform on their own or will they need coaching to feel comfortable using the platform?
Because clients requiring occupational therapy services may have cognitive impairments, platforms chosen to access therapeutic services should be user-friendly. If a platform requires too many steps to access it or the platform is not designed in a way that the client can understand how to engage with it, a client may disengage from the occupational therapy being provided.
When considering starting an internet-based occupational therapy service there are many factors to take into consideration. From legal guidelines to the accessibility of software and the overarching goal of the patient, there is a lot to consider when providing an internet-based occupational therapy service. These considerations can help an occupational therapist provide needed services within their community, understand their potential clients and their needs, and abide by their country’s guidelines and choose the appropriate tools.