Gertrude Robertson Explains How Occupational Therapists Can Stay Connected to Their Patients
Occupational therapists play an essential role in many people’s lives. Whether they are recovering from a stroke or heart attack, struggle with a disability, or need to find new ways to do the things they enjoy as they age, patients look to occupational therapists for guidance, advice, and solutions. As COVID-19 spreads across the world, physical distancing presents a new challenge for practitioners.
Gertrude Robertson is an occupational therapist in Brooklyn, New York. Her practice focuses on offering her clients holistic, compassionate, and individualized care. Traditionally, her practice has relied on in-person assessments and appointments with clients. In an effort to flatten the curve, Robertson is now making a concerted effort to leverage technology in order to protect both herself and her patients. She, along with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), encourages her fellow occupational therapists to do the same.
While the Centers for Medicare & Medicade Services (CMS) has not yet approved occupational therapists for telehealth reimbursement, there are other ways occupational therapists in Brooklyn and elsewhere can continue to provide health care services to their patients while maintaining a safe distance.
Virtual check-ins are available to patients already under the care of an occupational therapist. They are usually short video, or telephone calls initiated by the patient regarding medical issues not discussed at a previous appointment within seven days prior to the call. Occupational therapists can use these types of check-ins for existing patients during the pandemic according to CMS. However, AOTA emphasizes that CMS only considers these sessions as “sometimes therapy” and should not be used as a replacement for traditional sessions.
That is where telephone assessments can come in handy, says Robertson. Like virtual check-ins, telephone assessments are client or patient initiated telephone conversations that can range from five to thirty minutes. CMS stipulates that the subject of the call must pertain to assessments not related to a management service provided in the previous seven days. It can also not be related to a service scheduled within the next twenty-four business hours. Again, in order to claim these services under CMS, it must be for a patient already under a plan of care.
During this pandemic and under these rules placed on occupational therapists by CMS, it can be difficult to assess whether to provide in-person services or attempt to do so via telephone or other remote solutions. AOTA emphasizes that the therapist must always consider the health and safety of both themselves and their patients, under their code of ethics and safety. They are also continuing to advocate for occupational therapists to be added to telehealth services in the United States.
As the situation quickly evolves, Gertrude Robertson encourages keeping open lines of communication with patients, clients, and their caregivers/families. If an in-person visit is necessary, be sure to have the appropriate personal protective equipment and be mindful of patient who may be at higher risk. Use your best judgement, Robertson urges, and stay up to date on developments through AOTA’s website, which is updated regularly with news and regulation changes for occupational therapists. Encourage your clients to reach out, she says, and stay connected to your professional networks for tips, tricks, and support.