Trends in Occupational Health for 2021

April 30, 2021
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Occupational health is an ever-evolving field. Last year in particular saw a dramatic shift in how healthcare services are provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Occupational health has also needed to adapt to the times, and 2020 has guided several healthcare trends that continue into this year. Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, here are some modern trends we have identified that are shaping the occupational health domain:

7 Emerging Trends for Occupational Health in 2021

  1. Telehealth Services

    The rise of telehealth services has been incredibly beneficial to occupational health. Telehealth has expanded greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic since it has allowed therapists to keep better tabs on patients’ progress without the need of face-to-face interaction. There are several ways that occupational therapists can take advantage of teletherapy, including:

    • Educating and guiding patients through Home Exercise Programs
    • Provide home safety evaluations via video
    • Guiding patients on how to set up and use other assistive technologies at home

    Because of the convenience in patient-doctor communication that telehealth provides for patient-doctor communication, patients stay engaged throughout the treatment process. This is incredibly important and ultimately makes it more likely that they will stick to their treatment regimens outside of the clinic.

  2. Wearable Tech

    Wearable tech has become incredibly popular nowadays. Smart watches, fitness trackers, and even body-mounted sensors have made it easy to monitor several health factors, including:

    • Number of Steps
    • Heart Rate
    • Breathing Patterns
    • Blood Pressure
    • Sleep Time and Quality

    These devices are usually paired with an app (sometimes referred to as mobile health tools) that tracks and stores all of this biometric data. This data is a treasure trove for Occupational Therapists and can help them to create better treatment plans, which promotes better outcomes for patients. This greatly mitigates – and can even eliminate – the “trial-and-error” process of developing an effective treatment strategy.

  3. Greater Push for Patient Engagement

    Patient engagement has always been a hot topic in occupational health and therapy as a whole. There has been a shift in the perceived roles of both therapists and patients in healthcare. Creating a dynamic relationship between the patient and therapist is vital to encouraging the best possible outcomes from treatment. Both sides need to communicate effectively and commit to doing their part of the treatment process.

    Instead of being a “passive” recipient of treatment, patients must take a more active role in their treatment process. Patients must be involved in gathering information, weighing options, and making decisions about their symptoms and treatment. Being actively engaged and contributing to their recovery ensures that the patient is doing their part to achieve the highest level of function.

  4. Increased Focus on Whole-Body Wellness

    There is an old saying that goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking this to heart, many therapists have begun applying a proactive, whole-body mindset to their patient care. This holistic approach to occupational therapy treats the whole patient – mind, body, and spirit.

    Treating current injuries and managing symptoms should always be a top priority of occupational therapists. However, there are so many other things that determine a person’s overall health. Holistic occupational therapy takes a look at the “big picture” of a person’s life. This starts by taking various lifestyle factors into account, including:

    • Diet
    • Fitness Levels
    • Stress
    • Sleep Quality
    • Mental Health
    • Smoking, Drinking, and Drug Use
    • Family History

    By considering all of these lifestyle factors, therapists can work with patients to develop a whole-body treatment plan. By treating the whole person and promoting healthy lifestyle habits, it’s possible to reduce the risk of injury or preventable diseases in the long run.

  5. Expanding into New Territory

    The job market for occupational therapists has been shrinking. This trend started a few years ago with payment restructuring, changing regulations, loss of jobs, and burnout related to working in the healthcare system. This downward trend was only further magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. While this isn’t great news for the field of occupational therapy, there is a silver lining.

    Due to the shrinking job market, OTs have begun applying their skills and expertise in innovative ways. Many have also begun expanding their services into non-traditional or emerging practice areas. Some of these new horizons for occupational therapy include:

    • Sleep Medicine
    • Diabetes Management
    • Childhood Obesity
    • Driver Rehabilitation and Training
    • Ergonomics Consulting
    • Artificial Limb Research and Development
    • Assistive Device and Technology Development

    It’s exciting to think of just how wide a net occupational health will cast over healthcare in general in the coming years.


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