Technical Communication in Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapist working with a patient 

Tracy Brown is a certified occupational therapist from Cary, North Carolina, and currently works for Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, Louisiana. As an occupational therapist, he helps individuals regain activities of daily living. Occupational therapy services can be extremely valuable to those who have a multitude of diseases or injuries such as, a arthritis, stroke, or osteoporosis. Tracy primarily works with orthopedics and neurology patients that are 60 years or older.

Road to Occupational Therapy

Tracy decided that occupational therapy was for him because he enjoyed communicating with people, learning about the human body, problem solving, and he felt it was his calling since it contained all of his enjoyments. Occupational therapy allows him to communicate with patients and create activities that improve loss of functionality. Tracy learned that the most important skill in patient care is communication.

The Skill of Communication

Tracy says the most important part of his job is communication. Tracy’s job requires him to use many different types of communication with his patients, other therapist, doctors, secretaries, and other medical records staff. If communication is not successful, then the patient will not get the maximum benefit out of therapy. Tracy says, “Therapy is a 2-way street; both sides must execute in order for it to be effective.”

Verbal Communication

A therapist must transfer medical terminology from physicians into creative exercises for patients. Tracy communicates on a daily basis with doctors and professionals of other therapy disciplines. He notifies the doctor if therapy has not progressed. This especially common in orthopedic patients typically because the patient needs to return to surgery or there is a deeper underlying problem.

According to Tracy, a therapist must establish a rapport with their patients to make them feel comfortable; this is established through effective communication but is not essential for the therapist-patient relationship. However, verbal communication is important between a therapists and other practitioners. Most often, Tracy’s patients cannot verbally communicate, because they are non native speakers or speech has been paired because of an injury, so he must find alternatives to communicate.

Cross Barrier Communication

Sometimes Tracy’s patients cannot speak English, so he uses a translating computer monitor system called “In Demand Interpreting.” This system can interpret any language in the world, including sign language.

Tracy also encounters communication barriers when his patients cannot speak or understand him because of a brain injury. When this arises, he uses many forms of demonstrations with his patients. On the other hand, the patients communicate with Tracy by using nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. According to Tracy, the ultimate communication in therapy is communicating without words.

Written Communication

Though verbal communication works well for patient-therapist synergy, it is not the best method for communication between insurance companies and doctors. This requires Tracy to do paperwork, primarily to the insurance companies and federal government. The federal goverment and insurance companies have guidelines that must be met at certain times. If they are not met and the patient requires more therapy, further documentation is needed by Tracy to explain the entire situation of the patient. As a result, Tracy must document what exercises the patients were able to perform and not perform on the days they have therapy.

Communication Consequences

According to Tracy, a lack of communication can cause serious problems with his patients. These issues can cause minor problems, such as a patient routinely performing the exercises without improving during therapy. Major consequences can also occur, such as exercises causing a patient more harm, which results in a patient returning to surgery.

Communication Continuem

Tracy believes he is a successful technical communicator, but he is still learning better ways to communicate with patients on a daily basis. Tracy says, “It is a continuous learning process. It never ends; it just continues to expand.”

Haley Ballinger, Guest Blogger

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