occpuational therapy session with a child

6 Trends in Occupational Therapy Research

10 May 2023

occupational therapy session with a child


  • Knowing the most recent trends in occupational therapy research can help you incorporate new approaches when treating patients. 
  • Current research shows an increase in the use of technology with beneficial outcomes. 
  • Virtual reality and sensory integration are emerging as effective modalities for OT patients. 
  • OT therapists can improve patient care by collaborating with other professionals and using a patient-centered approach. 

As Occupational Therapy Month approaches in April, it is important to reflect on recent advances in the field. Numerous studies have explored the efficacy of various interventions, including using emerging technologies and implementing personalized client-centered care. Several studies have shed light on the effectiveness of these interventions in improving clients’ occupational outcomes. 

Familiarizing yourself with the latest research findings in these areas can help you gain valuable insights for enhancing your clinical practice.

Recent Advances in Occupational Therapy Research

Trends in occupational therapy reveal the increasing use of technology and wearable technology for patients to continue their care from home. Research also shows trends such as interprofessional collaboration and a patient-centered approach for personalized, achievable outcomes. 

1. Technology Efficacy

Technology allows healthcare providers to deliver care to patients who are not physically present in the same location as the provider, making it easier for patients to receive care from the comfort of their own homes.

Patients and practitioners in OT practice areas report high satisfaction with technology. In a 2022 study, breast cancer patients scheduled for breast removal reported high satisfaction after receiving perioperative occupational therapy sessions through videoconferencing.  

A 2023 study on remote occupational therapy sessions for autistic children showed that clinicians saw parent coaching positively, but parents had mixed feelings. While some parents appreciated the coaching after getting used to it, others found it overwhelming to handle everything at home. 

The study suggested a mix of in-person and remote options might be better for the mental health of some parents.

2. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality can help stroke survivors, people with physical disabilities, and the elderly understand how to make decisions for home modifications. Participants in three studies reported positive attitudes toward using VR and games with their occupational therapists. 

Using these tools also increased their awareness of home hazard detection, although there were some technical issues and recommendations for improvements in the software.

A review of studies using augmented reality technology with autistic children found it can improve social skills and communication through exercises and games. AR technology can deepen understanding of social situations and behaviors and enhance social cues. It increases the children’s interest and motivation in the educational process, making it more enjoyable and preventing boredom. 

heart rate on apple watch

3. Wearable Technology

The use of wearable devices that track upper limb activity outside of occupational therapy sessions can help patients regain the ability to grasp objects. Clinicians can assist in the development of these devices so that they capture the quality and quantity of movement. However, future studies are necessary to examine stroke patients’ acceptance of wearable devices for tracking upper limb activity.

A systematic review of wearable devices for stroke patients found expensive devices like the StepWatch activity monitor have proven valid and reliable in research but are not practical for widespread use in clinical practice. 

Patients and clinicians may use inexpensive and more user-friendly devices, like smartphones and Fitbits. The devices can record various mobility parameters, including single-limb stance time, acceleration, and physical activity level.

4. Sensory Integration

A 2022 review of studies found sensory integration interventions have the potential to positively impact motor development, movement skills, and attention span for children with cerebral palsy. In the review, only one study found that group-based interventions were significantly more effective. 

Further research needs to verify this finding and explore the potential impact of sensory integration on other populations. 

Sensory modulation intervention within the framework of sensory integration can also help childhood victims of trauma. An analysis of studies reported positive improvements in emotional and mental regulation, social engagement, stress reduction, and increased participation in daily activities. 

5. Personalized and Client-Centered Care

Coaching in occupational therapy can empower clients and assist them in setting goals and achieving them. Occupational therapy students using the coaching approach in a 2022 study found it increased clients’ self-efficacy and confidence to reach their goals. 

The positive effects of the coaching model included increased follow-through and the use of achievable solutions. However, coaching may not suit every client; occupational therapists must consider each individual’s unique needs and preferences. 

A 2022 study on personalized care in late-stage Parkinson’s disease (LSPD) found that non-pharmacological interventions like OT helped mitigate the impact of disease progression and prevent clinical worsening in some cases. 

Personalized, at-home care, including wearable sensors and performing real-life tasks with specialists, can improve outcomes for LSPD and their caregivers.  

6. Interprofessional Collaborative Practice

A 2022 review recommended occupational therapists can work with psychologists, social workers, nurses, art therapists, and other healthcare professionals. They can provide holistic treatment for patients with mental health issues, such as young victims of violence. 

Collaborative efforts are also important in school for students exposed to trauma, with teachers and school psychologists providing essential support. Occupational therapists play a key role in providing necessary therapeutic support to improve the child’s participation in and out of school. 

smiling woman using a laptop

ClinicSource Therapy EMR for OT Therapist Practices

ClinicSource therapy EMR is a comprehensive, cloud-based occupational therapy practice management software that supports occupational therapy practices. The intuitive, user-friendly software saves OT therapists and their staff time by integrating scheduling, documentation, and billing processes for better efficiency. 

ClinicSource features OT-specific capabilities. For example, you can enter findings through drop-down menus and create informal checklists and assessments to expedite documentation. 

You can also use customizable templates to evaluate patients’ fine motor, range of motion, strength, gross motor, and sensory skills. These customizable templates were created by NBCOT-certified occupational therapists and American Occupational Therapy Association members. 

ClinicSource for Occupational Therapists

ClinicSource offers OT therapists a customizable, cloud-based practice management software that simplifies documentation, assessments, and billing for improved performance. With ClinicSource, you can complete administrative tasks and charting quickly, allowing you to spend more time with your occupational therapy patients. 

Schedule a demo today with a ClinicSource Specialist to learn how an integrated therapy EMR can benefit your practice. 


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