Key Challenges Faced by Occupational Therapists & Stakeholders

As the population ages, it puts stress on health care and social services. It creates more cost-conscious workers in doctors offices and hospitals, because of the increased demand on their time, tools, and budget.

Not only is the population aging, but more children are being diagnosed with chronic, life-altering disorders. As a result, many areas of health care begin to focus on rising costs, questioning the sustainability of the current health care and social care systems.


Because services face so much pressure to prove their value, they encounter increased challenges in other areas as well. A shift from providing necessary services to meeting critical needs has occurred in the past few years.

Patients often require their caregivers to provide these services closer to home. Therapists and other service providers are challenged with considering and developing a more personal and responsive health care plan for their patients, making it easier to follow a customized treatment plan and integrate it into their daily activities.

Challenges in a Hospital Setting

Occupational therapists in a hospital or office setting feel the need to demonstrate their abilities and provide services that are more cost-effective so they can improve patient experiences and results. It’s critical to implement feedback forms and patient satisfaction surveys to gather both qualitative and quantitative data to support the need and showcase the impact of occupational therapy.

As with all hospital staff, the pressure to discharge patients quickly and minimize the length of a patient’s stay in the hospital is paramount. With these rapid discharges comes the risk of readmission due to incomplete recovery or insufficient time spent in therapy.

Limited resources combined with the aging population facilitates the need for a better understanding of complex medical histories, differing from patient to patient. Occupational therapists not only have to have a firm grasp on the current occupational performance of each patient and how that affects their engagement in daily routines, but they have to perform activity analyses to determine the appropriate direction of care.

Perception of Others

Occupational therapists also struggle with how others perceive their field in the caregiving and medical industry. From the outside, occupational therapy often seems futile, slow to show results, and ineffective.

However, occupational therapists have a great deal of patience, and their creative thinking allows them to provide the interventions necessary to improve an individual’s balance, attention, fine motor skills, and self-esteem.

This critical skill gets overlooked by others in the medical profession because they don’t understand occupational therapy or the impact it has on patients with a number of disorders. It makes it difficult for occupational therapists to garner the support and cooperation they need from a patient’s other caregivers to create effective treatment plans.

Ethical Issues

Because of a lack of understanding of their profession, occupational therapists struggle with providing treatment in a world that is very medically focused. Rather than taking the time to fix the root of the issue, many patients would rather have medication to treat their symptoms for immediate relief.

Therapists have to balance appropriate treatment plans with a patient’s wishes to be discharged quickly, also taking into account the needs of the patient post-discharge.

Opportunities for Improvement

While the challenges are significant, they pave the way for some great opportunities for improvement. When a patient is at high risk of readmission, occupational therapists spend a great deal of time assisting with long-term treatment plans and management strategies.

People with complex needs rely on long-term facilities that focus on home maintenance and continued therapy. Occupational therapists have sharp assessment and intervention tools that help them understand the needs of these patients, and these strengthen their ability to provide a more client-centered approach to care.

It’s easier to overcome barriers to adequate care when a patient is continually engaged in their recovery from the comfort of their own home. This is especially necessary for children who find it imperative to learn to incorporate their treatment into their daily lives for better performance as an adult.

It is critical that occupational therapists who provide in-home care rely heavily on the holistic nature of their profession and the services available in their surrounding community. Providing a child with the tools he or she needs to function provides self-esteem and fosters growth and understanding.

Moving Forward

Both the aging population and the increased identification of disorders in children take a toll on the realm of occupational therapy, causing another set of challenges. However, there are opportunities to overcome these challenges by helping others to understand the impact of occupational therapy and its many benefits.

People with long-term conditions and chronic illnesses benefit from occupational therapy and its many facets, so therapists play a crucial role in developing trust among those with which they work. Focusing on facilitating independence and providing practical, life-changing solutions to a wide range of problems is necessary for the continued health of every patient.

Clare Louise