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Occupational therapists (OTs) graduate as generalists, with a core education encompassing an overview of the many modalities available for use by practitioners. OTs who develop specialty areas can gain additional credentials and certifications, expanding their expertise. However, one of the most important modalities already in any OT’s skillset is that of primary prevention. In this article, I’ll highlight 5 ways OTs can lead the prevention movement.
1) Disease prevention
Recent healthcare policy changes have made the importance of primary prevention, along with other methods of prevention, skyrocket. For those who are unfamiliar, primary prevention refers to education and strategies designed to prevent disease before it occurs in the general population.
For example, vaccinations are a common method of primary prevention, as a yearly flu shot is encouraged, along with that of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and Hepatitis B. Primary prevention also can be in the form of lifestyle changes or minimizing risk factors, such as smoking and poor diet.
2) Slowing disease progression
Secondary prevention aims to lessen the progression of diseases once an individual has been diagnosed.
For example, therapists can develop maintenance programs for newly diagnosed patients to complete at home to prevent a rapid or unnecessary progression of the disease. This can include educating a patient on rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, along with training on joint protection strategies, preventing additional inflammation and further damage to previously unaffected joints.
Similarly, energy conservation techniques taught to those with newly diagnosed pulmonary disorders can prevent the need for supplemental oxygen or associated cardiological symptoms from developing.
3) Maintenance of remaining function
Tertiary prevention tends to be one of the lesser known methods of disease prevention, as it is typically implemented at the end stages of the course of a disease.
The general population may assume nothing can be done for individuals with chronic diseases at such an advanced stage. Prevention in this category usually consists of maintenance therapy services to those with chronic conditions who may be cognitively or physically unable to carry out certain strategies on their own. This can include positioning schedules and training for patients who are non-ambulatory, regular skin checks for those patients with decreased sensation or body awareness, and adaptive equipment to compensate for a loss of function.
Aforementioned methods are based on common symptoms and functional skills of patients with end-stage diseases. However, compensatory methods can be modified to accommodate a range of diseases with different presentations.
4) Self-awareness training
Aside from the standalone role OT plays in the three major areas of prevention, there are additional ways they can implement prevention strategies within existing therapy sessions for the patient they treat.
Teaching patients methods of self-awareness can be incorporated into each session and can be upgraded or downgraded depending on the cognition or age of the patient. A lower-functioning patient may benefit from cognitive retraining or engaging therapeutic activities to increase body awareness and improve the ability to monitor symptoms.
The ability to deal accordingly with such symptoms may be impaired in some patients; however, if a patient gains the ability to seek help when becoming aware of certain symptoms, this involves the patient in preventing progression of a disease.
5) Wellness resources and education
Higher-functioning patients typically have the ability to seek information themselves if given recommendations. In this way, therapists can provide community resources and health education to assist independent patients in attaining the knowledge needed to address prevention daily, without the assistance of a therapist.
Therapists frequently give home recommendations to supplement the therapy plan of care for patients. In certain settings where patients are able to complete such tasks on their own, therapists imparting such knowledge may be more general, as the follow through is left with patients to maintain prevention efforts as part of their daily routine.
Overall, knowledge of occupational therapy and its scope of practice can assist in identifying areas of need within the community, both locally and nationally.
As time goes on, it is possible for the reach of occupational therapy to further expand as knowledge regarding its scope and role in a treatment team is spread. This will assist occupational therapy in its assertion as an integral part of the journey toward wellness, for individuals at any point in that journey.
- McDowell, I. (2015). Categories of Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.med.uottawa.ca/