Occupational Therapy Assistant Terminology You Need to Know

In order to become an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), one must first learn the terminology. Medical terminology is the language that medical professionals use to communicate with each other. It describes the human body and specific medical conditions. It’s important because it not only helps healthcare workers understand each other, but it also helps them understand a patient’s medical condition. By using correct medical terminology, they can come up with a treatment plan and make sure that the best patient care experience is delivered.

Learning these new terms will help you set a good foundation for your future career as an occupational therapy assistant. Below, we’ve come up with a list of some of the most important terms and phrases used by OTAs:

Activities of daily living (ADLs)

Activities that are oriented toward taking care of one’s own body and are completed on a daily basis. These activities are fundamental to living in a social world; they enable basic survival and well-being.1

Assessment

A specific tool, instrument, or systematic interaction used to understand a client’s occupational profile, client factors, performance skills, performance patterns, and contextual and environmental factors, as well as activity demands that influence occupational performance.

Client-centered care (client-centered practice)

Approach to service that incorporates respect for and partnership with clients as active participants in the therapy process. This approach emphasizes clients’ knowledge and experience, strengths, capacity for choice, and overall autonomy.

Empathy

Emotional exchange between occupational therapy practitioners and clients that allows more open communication, ensuring that practitioners connect with clients at an emotional level to assist them with their current life situation.

Evaluation

The comprehensive process of obtaining and interpreting the data necessary to understand the person, system, or situation. Evaluation requires synthesis of all data obtained, analytic interpretation of that data, reflective clinical reasoning, and consideration of occupational performance and contextual factors.

Goal

Measurable and meaningful, occupation-based, long-term or short-term aid directly related to the client’s ability and need to engage in desired occupations.

Habits

Specific, automatic behaviors performed repeatedly, relatively automatically, and with little variation. Habits can be healthy or unhealthy, efficient or inefficient, and supportive or harmful.

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)

Activities that support daily life within the home and community and that often require more complex interactions than those used in ADLs.

Intervention

Process and skilled actions taken by occupational therapy practitioners in collaboration with the client to facilitate engagement in occupation related to health and participation. The intervention process includes the plan, implementation, and review.

Occupation

Everyday personalized activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations can involve the execution of multiple activities for completion and can result in various outcomes. The broad range of occupations is categorized as activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, health management, rest and sleep, education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.

Quality of life

Dynamic appraisal of life satisfaction (perception of progress towards identifying goals), self-concept (beliefs and feelings about oneself), health and functioning (e.g., health status, self-care capabilities), and socioeconomic factors (e.g., vocation, education, income). 

Rehabilitation

Services provided to persons experiencing deficit keys areas of physical and other types of functions or limitations in participation in daily life activities. Interventions are designed to enable the achievement of and maintenance of optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, and social functional levels. Rehabilitation services provide tools and techniques clients need to attain desired levels of independence and self-determination.

Roles

For persons: Sets of behaviors expected by society and shaped by culture and context that may be further conceptualized and defined by the client. 

For groups and populations: Set of behaviors by the group or population expected by society and shaped by culture and context that may be further conceptualized and defined by the group or population.

Screening

Process of reviewing available data, observing a client, or administering screening instruments to identify a person’s (or a population’s) potential strengths and limitations and the need for further assessment. 

Skilled services

To be covered as skilled therapy, services must require the skills of a qualified occupational therapy practitioner and must be reasonable and necessary for the treatment of the patient’s condition, illness, or injury. Skilled therapy services may be necessary to improve a patient’s current condition, or to prevent or slow further deterioration of the patient’s condition. Practitioners should check their payer policies to ensure they meet payer definitions and comply with payer requirements. 

Wellness

The individual’s perception of and responsibility for psychological and physical well-being as these contribute to overall satisfaction with one’s life situation.

Abbreviations

Abbreviations and acronyms are shortened forms of words, and they are very commonly used in medical settings to help a patient’s care team more effectively communicate with each other. The abbreviations help save time, space, and effort, so the medical professionals are able to focus on treating the patients.

Here are some of the most frequently used abbreviations in occupational therapy:

POC – Plan of care

SOAP note – way that students are taught documentation principles 

S- Subjective

O- Objective

P- Plan

STG – Short term goal

LTG – Long term goal

SNF/SNU – Skilled nursing facility/skilled nursing unit

LTC – Long term care

EI – Early intervention

OTR/L – Occupational therapist registered/licensed

COTA/L – Certified occupational therapy assistant/licensed

UE – Upper extremity

LE – Lower extremity

HEP – Home exercise program

IP rehab – Inpatient rehabilitation

OP rehab – Outpatient rehabilitation

Tx – Treatment

PAMS – Physical agent modalities

FW – Fieldwork

AE – Adaptive equipment

AD – Assistive devices

WC – Wheelchair


As you pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you will have the opportunity to learn all of the medical terminology and abbreviations used in the profession. This will help prepare you for when you go out on your externship, and it will ensure that you are able to communicate with fellow co-workers, occupational therapists, and even patients. For more information, please visit the Ross Occupational Therapy program page.



1 Occupational Therapy Practice Framework Domain and Process, 4th Edition

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