Letters to the Editor
occupational therapy

Role of occupational therapists in acute care

By: By Laura Sellew, OTS

In celebration of Occupational Therapy Month, I want to share information about the role of the occupational therapist (OT) in the acute care setting.

As OTs, we believe in the therapeutic power of occupation—the “everyday activities that people do to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life”, as noted in the American Occupational therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process—Fourth Edition. We are specifically trained in helping patients participate in these activities while they are in the acute care setting, and in helping the patient and caregiver prepare for continuing these activities following discharge into the community. For example, you may see your OT colleagues assisting patients with hygiene tasks and educating patients about their diagnoses, getting dressed, participating in work tasks, or preparing to resume their social roles and responsibilities, like parenting. An acute care OT may also educate patients on community resources to assist with managing their healthcare, provide psychosocial support to maximize quality of life, or educate the patient on healthy lifestyle choices.

We strive to help our patients function in their daily routines at the highest level, as independently as possible. We analyze and optimize the patient’s performance in their daily activities, taking into consideration the patient’s cognition, mental health, social supports and needs, and the environment. For instance, OTs might help patients develop compensatory strategies or use adaptive equipment that will allow them to continue to bathe independently, despite their new functional limitations. An OT might conduct a cognitive evaluation and suggest memory aides or train the patient in cognitive strategies in order to allow the patient to complete complex tasks, like paying bills or attending college classes.

Occupational therapists play a significant role in generating positive patient outcomes. According to Medicare claims and cost report data, occupational therapy is the only spending category that has been shown to reduce hospital readmissions. Occupational therapy intervention has also been proven to improve emotional well-being, sense of self-efficacy and level of independence in activities of daily living.

As part of this month’s celebration, I invite all acute care nurses and nursing students to celebrate your OT friends and colleagues.

Laura Sellew is a student in the University of Florida Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program.


American Occupational Therapy Association. Occupational therapy’s role with acute care. 2017.  aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/Professionals/WhatIsOT/RDP/Facts/Acute-Care.pdf

American Occupational therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process—Fourth Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2020. doi:10.5014/ajot.2020.74s2001

Rogers A., Bai G, Lavin RA, Anderson GF. Higher hospital spending on occupational therapy is associated with lower readmission rates. Med Care Res Rev. 2017;74(6):6668-86. doi:10.1177/1077558716666981

Toledano-González A, Labajos-Manzanares T, Romero-Ayuso D.  Well-being, self-efficacy and independence in older adults: A randomized trial of occupational therapy. Arch Gerontol Geriatr.  2019;83:277-84. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2019.05.002

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