Emerging Niche: Telehealth

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified telehealth as an emerging niche in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on this site (search Telehealth). This page has been retained for historical information. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

TelehealthWhy emerging? With the widespread use and adoption of computers, Web cams, and the Internet, the idea of telehealth is not only more feasible today, but it is also gaining popularity—3 out of 4 Americans surveyed said they would use telemedicine.1 The health care reform legislation addresses telehealth as a cost savings measure, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Donald Berwick, MD, stated in a press release that his agency wants to "devise policies that reflect the most innovative practices in delivering care to all patients, especially patients in rural or remote parts of the country, through telemedicine."2.

Get Involved: When Jana Cason, DHS, OTR/L, took over a caseload from an occupational therapist who was traveling 4 hours roundtrip to provide services to clients living in a rural part of her state, she learned about the strain of distance and how it affected flexibility in scheduling. Working on her doctorate degree, Cason used videoconferencing technology with her professors and fellow classmates and was amazed at how quickly she forgot she was interacting through technology and felt as though she was having an in-person conversation. She focused her doctoral work on telehealth and eventually developed, implemented, and evaluated a telehealth program that provided early intervention services.

Telehealth is not a practice area, says Cason, but a service delivery model that transcends practice areas and improves access to occupational therapy services. "Research is showing that it is an effective way to deliver therapy services," she says. Practitioners interested in using telehealth should connect with other practitioners because it is so new, and "we're all learning and moving forward together." Cason suggests looking at the reimbursement structure, licensure requirements in the states where you will practice (which may be different from where you are living), know the technology, and be aware of the ethical components. Practitioners can connect on the OT Connections telehealth forum as well as the American Telemedicine Association's telerehab special interest section.

Cason believes that telehealth is the wave of the future and that as interactive technology—such as videoconferencing, smart phones, and tablet computers—continues to grow, practitioners will be able to provide services in a client's natural environment. "Be open to thinking about ways that occupational therapy is not always hands on," says Cason. "We go beyond the hands on component when we are teaching and recommending modifications to an environment. All those things can be delivered by technology and really fit the delivery model of telehealth."

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  1. Anderson, H. (2009). Survey: Consumers keen on telemedicine. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from

  2. Lowes, R. (2011, May 3). CMS removes credentialing barrier to telemedicine. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from (free registration required).