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How Occupational Therapists Can Enhance Patient Safety

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How Occupational Therapists Can Enhance Patient Safety

By Laure Justice, Contributor

Occupational therapists are in a unique position when it comes to interacting with patients, and this creates the opportunity to directly enhance patient safety. By doing things like staying on top of current research, looking at each situation to find safety red flags and taking the time to listen to patients, an occupational therapist has the chance to improve the quality of life for each patient.

Occupational therapy research and statistics

New information emerges all the time in the medical field, making it essential for occupational therapists to stay informed about the latest trends, but that's only part of the reason occupational therapists are uniquely poised to help patients be safer.

According to Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, owner of OT Potential, "What makes occupational therapists so excellent at addressing safety is that not only do we keep up with the latest research and statistics around patient safety from falls to seating, but we are also trained to take an up-close and holistic look at what impacts the safety of each person."

Lyon goes on to note that safety issues may be unexpected things, and an occupational therapist might determine that something like finding a place to feed a pet to avoid deep bending may be what's needed to help the patient prevent a fall.

Active listening when patients talk about issues

It's easy to get caught up in the idea that patients need to do specific exercises, but it's more important to actively communicate in a way that doesn't alienate them. According to Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, CEO & President of Rehab U Practice Solutions, "One of the biggest things clinicians can do to enhance patient safety is simply listening to their patients. Often times, especially within the context of treatment, clinicians can feel like they've got to get the patient to do this activity or complete X number of reps."

Salazar goes on to explain that if a patient mentions an exercise being painful or a source of discomfort, the clinician might push them to do it anyway. Salazar notes this is damaging in two ways. First, forcing an exercise that's causing pain can have an adverse effect and result in greater injury for the patient. The second issue is that pushing the patient to do the painful exercise rather than listening to their complaints may cause the patient-clinician relationship to degrade.

Consider home modifications to enhance patient safety

Looking for necessary home modifications is part of the holistic approach an occupational therapist can employ to help patients be safer. The home environment has an impact on the way a patient is able to manage daily tasks, and some small changes can make a big difference in a patient's quality of life, as noted by AOTA. The occupational therapist may begin by assessing the patient's current state in regard to issues like:

  • Ability to balance
  • Ability to communicate effectively with others
  • Ability to focus and maintain attention
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Physical strength
  • Safety awareness
  • Vision

After evaluating these patient details, an occupational therapist would then assess the patient's home environment, looking for safety red flags that put the patient at risk. Things that put the patient at risk could be the physical condition of a building that needs to be repaired and things that could be removed or altered to make the patient safer.

Loose banisters and loose floorboards that could cause a patient to fall are examples of structural things that need to be repaired to enhance patient safety. Things that may need to be removed or altered to help increase patient safety include removing excess plugs from overloaded outlets and taking throw rugs off the floor so patients can't trip on them.

As part of the home modifications, an occupational therapist might also advise a patient or caregiver to have sturdy upper-body supports installed in the home. These may include grab bars and handrails that the patient can use to support themselves while navigating the home. The occupational therapist may then assess the way the patient manages to move around the home after modifications have been completed to ensure the changes are effective and to make sure no further home modifications are needed.

If you're ready to begin your next occupational therapy position and help more patients with safety issues, browse through the available positions on Med Travelers and fill out the online application today.

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