12 Ways Occupational Therapists and OTAs Can Provide Telehealth Services (with Fun Ideas to Try)

If you're looking for ways occupational therapists and OTAs can provide telehealth services, then this post has you covered!

As an occupational therapist or assistant, it’s nearly embedded in your DNA to be hands-on practitioners. 

The early parts of 2020 probably found you neck-deep in tons of paperwork after several strenuous 30-minute treatment sessions with your patients.

Then, out of the blue, the pandemic COVID-19 snuck onto you – and almost everyone else on the planet.  Suddenly, you’re homebound with too much time in your hands. 

What should you do?  You can’t just sit around and wait until the golden gate opens again...

That is what this blog post is for, a work-shift paradigm that capitalizes on your occupational therapist skills while maintaining the regulated social distancing rule – telehealth services.

Telehealth, while fairly young, is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ for practicing Occupational Therapists and Assistants.  

To aid your transition in case you haven’t made the timely online shift, I have rounded up a few materials from reputable sources on how occupational therapists and OTAs can provide telehealth services.

AOTA’s Key Practice Areas for the 21st Century

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) identifies key practice areas for occupational therapists and assistants as you move forward amidst the global pandemic and into the 21st century.  

As its staff and volunteer leaders help to support the professional community, it offers resources and tools so that occupational therapists and OTAs can provide telehealth services via an ethical and occupation-based practice that focuses on client activity, participation, and quality of life. 

Children and Youth

If you’re a pediatric occupational therapy practitioner, you can be elemental in supporting the societal needs of infants, toddlers, children, youth, and their families. 

You can leverage technology-based early intervention services and responses to intervention through online activities while your clients are safe in the comfort of their homes.

Health and Wellness

Accumulated scientific evidence suggests that an individual’s health is directly related to one’s physical and emotional well-being. 

Consequently, the studies will propel an increasing need for wellness-related services that you, an occupational therapist or assistant, offer.  

Other factors that make telehealth services more in-demand are the rising aging population with increased longevity, the health risks faced by more people about obesity, and the challenges in the quality and pace of life brought about by imbalances in life roles.

Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness is taking a huge leap as a front liner in causing disability worldwide, specifically depression. 

As governing bodies aim to increase emphasis on mental health treatment and prevention services for children, youth, the aging, and those with severe or persistent mental illnesses, so will the need for occupational therapists and assistants who can provide telehealth services.

Productive Aging

The world is experiencing breakthroughs that set the stage for occupational therapists and OTAs can provide telehealth services even beyond our period of lockdowns. 

The rapidly aging population, increased longevity, the ever-changing workplace environments, and the baby boomers’ renewed focus on quality-of-life in general.

Rehabilitation, Disability, and Participation

The core in practicing occupational therapy is rehabilitation as you address the needs of people with injuries, illnesses, or deficits in occupational performances as results of various causes.  

Through telehealth, you can help your clients, regardless of condition or location, get back into participating in activities that they need or want to do. 

As you conduct your telehealth occupational therapy services, you can be guided by current research, evidence, and critical reasoning to achieve outcomes as effective as if you’re face-to-face with your clients.

Work and Industry

From the homo sapiens who dwelled in caves to the 21st-century mankind, human beings have worked in more ways than you and I can count.

While work comes with economic rewards, meaning, and fulfillment, it also comes with adverse work situations that may negatively affect the quality of life and well-being of workers and employers alike.

Here is where you, as an occupational therapist or assistant, come in. 

The lockdowns, while they seem to be immediate stress relievers, birthed more work-related dysfunctions that telehealth services may help alleviate.

Home Program Activities in Practicing Telehealth Occupational Therapy 

The Inspired Treehouse, a site of pediatric occupational and physical therapists, is passionate about sharing information, tips, and strategies in helping kids build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play. 

While the activities that follow focus on child development and wellness, occupational therapists and assistants can provide telehealth services by adapting their suggested activities into customized home programs for your various clients.

Practice with Scissors

Aptly called Creative Cutting Practice, this activity strengthens hand strength in cutting through different materials, coordinates the patient’s grasp and release in handling the tool, practices the visual-motor skill, and fine-tunes the coordination of both hands with one holding the material and the other operating the scissors. 

Here are the ways to gradually build up your client’s prerequisite cutting skills:

  • Hand Strength

    • Cutting heavy paper, card stock, or sandpaper

    • Playing with playdough or rubber bands

  • Visual-Motor Skills

    • Following lines like mazes

    • Tracing lines

  • Grasping Skills and Coordination

    • Picking up small objects with tongs

    • Grasping and pulling the tape

    • Squeezing, pinching, and placing clothespins on different objects

  • Bilateral skills

    • Tearing and folding paper

    • Stringing beads

    • Peeling and sticking stickers

  • Cutting Practices

    • Lines with corrugated craft borders

    • Playdough and putty

    • Lines with tape

    • Straws

    • Tape mazes

Drawing and Writing Practice

Disrupted fine motor and visual skills may trigger rigid behaviors from your clients. 

Often, these behaviors lead to frustration and eventually, shutting down.  

Tracing and drawing templates help your clients regain their confidence and achieve success through practice.  

Here are the benefits of this activity:

  • Builds strength and endurance in the muscles of the hands

  • Improves bilateral skill of using both their dominant and non-dominant hands

  • Refines control and grasp with the movement coming from the digits of the finger instead of the wrist or elbow

  • Promotes creativity, confidence, and independence

Handwriting Practice 

Practicing handwriting is among the common reasons for referrals to occupational therapy. 

To veer away from its monotony, transform those writing tasks into board games to incorporate fun into the activity.  Here are fun ways.

  • Scatergories Jr. – Targets speech and language concepts by listing objects in various categories beginning with a certain letter.

  • Spot It – Enhances visual perception skills by writing down the word for the picture that is common in any two cards from a deck.

  • Charades – Instead of acting something out, your client can write down his or her guess

Coordination and Motor Planning Activities

Occupational therapists and assistants can provide telehealth services by turning even the most mundane materials into fun activities that effectively target all kinds of motor skills, cognitive skills, and a whole lot more.   

One simple material that you can transform into a skill-building powerhouse is a yoga mat, and here are some of the simple activities that you can assist your clients with.

  • Kneeling – A great position for reaching and midline crossing activities

  • Standing – Play passing or catching a ball in a neutral stance or tandem stance (the way you would walk forward on a balance beam)

  • Jumping – Use a permanent marker to draw lines on the yoga mat like a ladder for your client to jump over, or you can draw a hopscotch board into the yoga mat

  • Crawling – With pillows or cushion under the yoga mat, the uneven surface will create a challenge for your clients to crawl across

  • Stepping – Rolled up yoga mats taped with painter’s tape are excellent in creating uneven steps that your clients would enjoy stepping up onto, down from, or over while rehabilitating their leg muscles in coordination with visual-motor skills.

  • Stretching – Roll up a yoga mat and have your client work at an easel with heels on the ground and toes on the mat for a passive calf stretch while standing.  Roll the mat as much or as little as needed, depending on your client’s range of motion.

  • Straddling – With a rolled-up yoga mat acting as a bolster, have your client straddle it while reaching down to either side to pick up things.  This activity is an excellent core strengthening and midline crossing practice that occupational therapists and assistants can use in providing telehealth services.

  • Yoga – Last but the most obvious, use a yoga mat for all its intent and purpose – yoga routines.

Balance Practice

Both the young and the young-at-heart would love balanced activities. 

The single-leg stance is among the frequently used activities in goal setting because of the skill’s assessment ease and progression measurement. 

Occupational therapists and assistants can provide telehealth services through the following fun activities that promote balance through continuous practice using a single-leg stance.

  • Putting pants on – Do this activity standing up to practice balance

  • Stomp Rocket – There is instant gratification if your client can balance on one foot long enough to lift the other foot and stomp it down

  • Razor Scooter – With one foot on the scooter platform and the other pushing to make the scooter go, it promotes core, pelvic, and leg strengthening as the body stabilizes to maintain balance on a tiny moving piece of metal

  • Hopscotch rings – Your client catching tossed hopscotch rings on one foot is fun and challenge rolled into one

  • Playground ball – Have your client stand with one foot up on a playground ball then slowly roll it clockwise, counterclockwise, left and right, and forward and backward

  • Balloon volleyball

  • Kicking

  • Monkey Elevator

  • Bubble Wrap

Core Strengthening

Core strengthening is vital across all client ages because it is the center of control for everything else that your client’s body does. 

Whether it’s to help your client coordinate movements on both sides of their bodies or simply sit up straight in a chair, a strong core is fundamental, and you can help incorporate the practice into your client’s everyday activities.

  • Picking up objects from the floor

  • Lifting something heavy

  • Pushing and pulling activities

  • Sweeping floors, raking leaves, or shoveling snow

From key practice areas to home-based activities that promote client rehabilitation, you are now geared up to practice your occupational therapy services through telehealth. 

All you have to do is make the shift!

Thanks for reading!

Rose G