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Occupational Therapy

What is occupational therapy?

Illness or injury can make it hard to do some of the everyday things you used to do. Occupational therapy (OT) helps you regain these skills or learn new ways to do things. For example, you may learn new ways to:

  • eat
  • cook
  • bathe and dress
  • do common household tasks
  • keep doing your usual work activities

When may I need occupational therapy?

You may need OT if you have had:

  • broken bones that make it hard to do everyday tasks
  • a hand injury or surgery
  • joint replacement surgery
  • a stroke or other type of paralysis
  • lung disease
  • a head injury
  • a severe vision problem, including blindness
  • any illness or injury that affects your ability to do your job

If you are a frail older adult, the therapist can check your ability to wash, bathe, and dress. He or she can help you know what kind of help you may need.

What does an occupational therapist do?

The therapist helps you learn ways to do everyday tasks despite your disability or illness. The therapist may:

  • Teach you shortcuts and how to use special equipment, such as reachers, special kitchen utensils, or shower stools and grab bars.
  • Make hand splints and show you how to do hand exercises.
  • Check out your home or workplace and suggest ways you can do things more easily and safely.
  • Help you get the right equipment you need. For example, the therapist may:
    • Fit a wheelchair to your needs and body size.
    • Help get an artificial leg to fit and work correctly.

What is the difference between occupational and physical therapy?

Physical therapy (PT) looks at how your body functions. It looks mainly at muscle strength, joint functions, and your ability to control your movements. It often involves exercises so you can get stronger and move around better.

OT looks at how you will do basic tasks after an injury or with a disability. It can help you learn to do things differently or use tools to adapt to a disability.

Physical and occupational therapists often work together to help you. After serious injury or illness, most people have both types of therapy.

Where do I get occupational therapy?

OT can be done in the hospital, in a clinic, or at home.

What is the Medicare coverage for occupational therapy?

Medicare helps pay for medically necessary therapy when:

  • Your healthcare provider or therapist sets up the plan of treatment.
  • Your provider reviews the plan from time to time to see how long you will get therapy.

Medicare pays a percentage of an OT bill that it approves. If you need therapy when you are a patient in the hospital, the therapy is part of the total bill. Medicare pays the hospital a specific rate based on your medical problem. You are responsible for deductibles and parts of the bills not covered by Medicare. If you have a Medicare supplemental plan, the plan may cover these charges. The amounts you must pay may be higher if an occupational therapist does not accept Medicare assignment.

Written by Carolyn Norrgard, RNC, BA, MEd, and Carol Matheis-Kraft, PhD, RNC, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-11
Last reviewed: 2011-06-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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