April is Occupational Therapy month and this is an opportune time to celebrate the work of occupational therapists and understand how they function in home health teams to help patients lead more fulfilling lives. OTs often play an essential role in ensuring that patients of all ages can live independently at home.More than 13 million adults over the age of 65 have some form of disability. OTs are well-trained to assist them. While 90 percent of seniors prefer to remain in their homes as long as possible, disability is a strong driver for people to enter nursing homes. These admissions curtail the independence of seniors and add to the national financial burden for long-term care.
“Aging in place is substantially less expensive than a nursing home or other long-term care option,” says Fred Somers, executive director of American Occupational Therapy Association.
A little OT help goes a long way
OTs take two approaches to helping patients with disabilities complete routine daily activities like toileting, bathing and cooking:
- Helping individuals manage their disabilities by modifying how they approach daily tasks
- Improving the home environment to facilitate independence and reduce risk of injuries
Much of the support for seniors lies in daily living activities. A five-month pilot program for low-income seniors who were offered help with occupational therapy, nursing care and handyman services in showed favorable outcomes in recent years. Seventy-nine percent of participants improved their performance in daily living activities, had higher self-esteem and fewer symptoms of depression.
Readmissions can be reduced with OT help
OTs help seniors as they experience a decline in functioning, as well as assisting people of all ages with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. They support people returning home after surgeries and hospital stays, with the goal of preventing expensive hospital readmissions. After a hospital stay, an OT can assess a patient and their home environment to assure a smooth transition. Perhaps not surprisingly, occupational therapy is the only medical spending category that reduces hospital readmission for three key illnesses – heart failure, pneumonia and acute myocardial infarction.
The OT toolkit for safety and success
To ensure that patients are able to live safely and independently, OTs may use a number of strategies:
- Prevent injuries by assessing and reducing home safety risks in the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom
- Train and advise caregivers, whether they are family members or home care workers
- Provide practical suggestions on preparing meals, taking medications and preventing falls
- Improve patient confidence by building rapport and offering emotional support. Family caregivers may feel less stress if the patient is more independent.
An occupational therapist can play a lead role on the home health team. The OT may perform an initial assessment that establishes eligibility for Medicaid and other payer coverage. They can help sustain a patient’s Medicare funding since the need for occupational therapy qualifies a patient for continued home health care.
Accurate OASIS data is critical to correct payment
OTs frequently perform administrative work by collecting OASIS data for reporting to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Accurate OASIS data ensures that payment is appropriate and outcomes are correct. ABILITY Network has an OASIS application that automates this process and ensures its accuracy.
Armed with knowledge of mental and physical health, plus practical strategies and tools, OTs contribute greatly to home health teams. Most important, they play a valuable role in keeping patients independent and healthy in their own homes.
Everyone has a role to play these days in keeping healthcare costs under control while maintaining quality of care. ABILITY Network helps prevent costly hospital readmissions by supporting skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies with tools to manage administrative and clinical complexities. Check out our resources here.