In my understanding, the role of an Occupational Therapist or OT is to help people of all ages, with the aim of promoting health by assisting individuals to develop, restore, or maintain daily living or work skills. Considering the fast paced developments taking place in the global healthcare industry, the function of an occupational therapist is also constantly evolving, with greater degrees of competencies being required in addition to the traditional nature of occupational therapy. A modern day OT professional needs to be adept at not just providing care, but also conducting research in order to provide health care services that are in tandem with the growing needs of patients and new technologies available to address them. As such, occupational therapists need to be firm believers in life-long learning and constantly strive to develop their skills and knowledge base in order to keep up with changing trends in the healthcare industry that has led to an increased demand for such professionals.
In recent years, awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities in Canada has risen exponentially. In 2011, the Government of Canada contributed $124,566 through the Disability component of the Social Development Partnership Program or SDPP-D to support organizations such as the Neil Squire Society, that focus on the utilization of new technologies, techniques and raising awareness for the better inclusion of disabled persons. Several universities also spread awareness, support and educate students about disabilities through workshops and events. For example, Queen’s University is working on programs and practices that enhance accessibilities and mobility of a person with disability. In addition to improving an individual’s daily living or work skills, occupational therapists also conduct treatment programs, and provide training for staff and students in schools and other educational institutions. Moreover, they provide consulting on designing barrier-free classrooms and assistive technologies to increase accessibility to persons with disabilities.
The profession of OT also plays a major part in the promotion of physical, mental, psychological and social health and injury prevention among individuals and groups. Primary prevention focuses on averting accidents or injuries while secondary prevention means halting or slowing the progression of a disease. Today, the emphasis on health promotion and prevention is increasing as it is important to reduce health care costs. Public Health Agency of Canada states that several preventative health intervention initiatives at an early stage have been found to be more cost-effective when compared to pharmaceutical interventions. For example, in the practice of tobacco control, occupational therapists can directly help tobacco users to quit by offering a variety of tobacco-cessation strategies. This also can be achieved through professional development programs and education on tobacco-cessation to improve the health of tobacco users and help in reducing the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand smoke. Occupational therapist can also be involved in the prevention of obesity and promote healthy living among children and youth during their developmental years.
The above mentioned general trends in the Canadian healthcare system reveal that occupational therapists are well positioned to play a major role in not just addressing welfare needs but also assisting in controlling the cost implications of healthcare services. Occupational therapists are needed to provide assessment and treatment to people of all ages with physical or mental disabilities, from children to elderlies. They provide consultations to industry, government and schools to increase the awareness and accessibilities of persons with disabilities. Last but not the least, they play a major role in promoting an individuals’ health and preventing injuries. These factors work together to keep healthcare costs down, improve the general health of the populace, and create equity between normal healthy persons and those with disabilities.