What to Expect from a Hospital OT

Acute Care Occupational Therapy

Acute Care Occupational Therapy. GettyImages

During a stay in the hospital, it can be difficult to keep track of the many health care professionals coming and going from your room.


Even more confusing can be deciphering the unique role that each plays in your recovery.

Among these professionals, your hospital-based occupational therapist (aka acute care OT) has a unique skill set and role. Understanding these can help you advocate for the best care.

An Overview of Hospital OT

In the hospital, occupational therapists help bridge the gap between your medical condition and your ability to function in daily life.

The medical staff will closely monitor your vitals, medications, healing wounds, etc. Your occupational therapist will watch how these are affecting your ability to function.

Numbers and tests don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes a person’s stats will return to a normal range, but they are too weak to care for themselves. Perhaps your arms are set in casts and on track for healing, but how exactly are you supposed to do…well…anything? This is where OT comes in.

Your occupational therapist will support you in participating in the basic tasks required to discharge safely. Including, but not limited to:

  • Driving
  • Getting dressed
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Fixing meals
  • Showering
  • Caring for your children and dependents
  • Caring for your pets
  • Running errands

    Beyond helping you participate in these tasks, your OT also has a skillset in specialized treatment techniques, discussed later in the article.

    Often sessions run around a half-hour, depending on what you can tolerate. If your OT determines that you could benefit from her services beyond the evaluation, you will likely be seen for 3-5 days/week or until you leave the hospital.

    The Evaluation

    Your OT is evaluating you with discharge in mind. Ultimately, your OT will seek to understand the earliest point at which you can safely leave the hospital. At minimum, what will you need to be able to do for yourself? What will you need help with? Will you need further rehabilitation?

    To answer these questions, she will ask you nitty-gritty details about your daily life. For example:

    • Have you fallen at home?
    • Is your laundry in the basement?
    • Do you have a tub or a walk-in shower?
    • When will help be available to you?
    • Do you have a pet?

    Be patient with the barrage of questions. Your OT is trying to get a holistic picture of what your recovery will entail. She is helping you avoid complications that others have experienced.

    After the questions will come a physical evaluation. Your OT will likely look at your strength and range of motion and any other physical components (sensation, vision, balance) affected by your condition

    If you are able, your OT will also have you perform a few physical tasks, such as putting on socks, walking into the bathroom, or grooming at the sink.

    These tasks may seem trivial, but as mentioned, she is looking at whether you can do the basic activities of daily living (ADLs).

    It is not uncommon for patients to believe that immediately discharging from the hospital should not be a problem until they get up and try to do a few tasks. They then discover their condition has left them with pain, weakness, dizziness and/or limited movement.


    With the end goal being personal function, your OT has a diverse arsenal of treatment techniques that you may benefit from. All OTs should be competent in general strengthening and addressing your participation in ADLs. Acute care OTs are often competent in cognitive assessments, neuromuscular re-education, and wheelchair assessment.

    Your particular OT may also have competency in:

    • Lymphedema management
    • Wound management
    • Eating and swallowing
    • Preserving skin integrity
    • Cardiac rehabilitation
    • Visual/perceptual skills
    • Vestibular rehab
    • Assistive Devices
    • Diabetes Education

    If you're anticipating a longer hospital stay, talk to your occupational therapist about ways to bring your regular life routines into the hospital, so you can still feel like you, despite the change in circumstances.

    Client Education

    Client and caregiver education is interlaced with treatment, but deserving of its own category due to its vital nature. In general, acute care therapists will only see their patients for a few sessions, so they focus on providing information about caring for yourself, rather than assuming all necessary rehabilitation can take place before leaving the hospital.

    For example, if you have hip, sternal, or back precautions, OTs will often be the professional to go over these with you. She will walk you through how these precautions will impact your daily life.

    Discharge Recommendations

    Your OT will utilize the information she has gathered to make discharge recommendations.

    Discharge recommendations may include the following:

    • The level of care needed to perform daily tasks
    • Further occupational therapy
    • Assistive devices
    • Home exercise program

    Discharge recommendations are discussed in your last session, shared with the treatment team and forwarded to your next facility or rehabilitation clinic, if applicable.


    Your OT should be your resource for any practical concerns you have about your discharge from the hospital. Nothing is a silly or trivial question. Ask them. If they cannot address your issue, they will find someone who can. 

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