Barriers to EBP: A Social Media Study

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According to AOTA, “Evidence-based practice (EBP) is based on the integration of critically appraised research results with the clinical expertise, and the client’s preferences, beliefs and values” (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2017). Essentially, it is a complex balancing act between the clinician’s knowledge and experience, high-quality research, and client factors. Maintaining equilibrium between these three factors is crucial to ensuring high-quality, evidence-based occupational therapy practice.

EBP Pyramid Diagram

 

  • By focusing too closely on research results, a clinician risks ignoring client preferences and discounting the value of their own clinical expertise.
  • By relying too heavily on personal and professional experience, a clinician may fail to remain abreast of relevant research and acknowledge client opinions and preferences.
  • By concentrating too much on client factors, a clinician may reject or ignore clinical experiences or evidence that doesn’t precisely match the client’s background or health condition.

 

Although the definition of evidence-based practice is clear, the implementation of evidence-based practice is much more difficult.

 

Barriers to Evidence-based OT Practice

In the book Evidence-based Practice for Occupational Therapists (2007), author M. Clare Taylor perfectly summarizes the challenge that evidence-based practice presents. She wrote:

“There is a growing body of evidence (e.g. Wiles & Barnard 1998; Upton 1999b; Welch & Dawson 2006) that therapists are less willing to act on research evidence than they are to act on other forms of evidence to review or change their practice. Upton (1999b) found, in descending order of willingness to act, that therapists would act on information from the follow sources:

  • own practice and experience
  • colleagues from the same profession
  • line manager
  • journal articles
  • clinical effectiveness facilitator
  • colleagues from different professions
  • the internet

when reviewing or changing their practice. From this evidence there would appear to be a mismatch between the accepted hierarchy of evidence for EBP and the value therapists place on various sources of evidence.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to the development of [evidenced-based OT] is this reliance upon experiential knowledge. However, the definition of [evidence-based OT] cited earlier emphasizes the use of three strands of evidence when making intervention decisions. The evidence-based occupational therapist should draw on her or his own experiential evidence, on evidence and information from the client and on a critical review of the research evidence…the skill is to synthesize all of this evidence and to make sure that all three strands are utilized rather than [relying] on experiential evidence alone.”

Taken together, the data from professional literature, published studies, and my own professional and clinical experience suggest that while many therapists understand the value of evidence-based practice, they do not consistently use an evidence-based approach to practice. It is also apparent that there are many therapists who do not appear to understand the meaning or importance of EBP, and these individuals may be damaging our professional reputation – or worse, clients – by using unproven interventions with unpredictable outcomes.

 

This struggle between overreliance on experience and the skilled integration of multiple types of evidence in OT practice that Taylor described is exemplified in the following social media “case study” that will be the focus of this post.

 

Evidence Based OT Practice: A Social Media Study

The screenshot below was originally shared in the Pediatric Occupational Therapy Facebook group, and it was the spark that ignited a heated discussion about evidence-based practice – specifically, what constitutes “evidence,” the use of evidence in OT practice, and the importance of fact-checking and clinical reasoning when making treatment decisions. The resulting dialogue demonstrates just how charged and complex the conversation about EBP continues to be in everyday practice and professional circles.

 

Although it is only a single discussion thread, this online debate was a largely accurate representation of the current state of evidence-based practice in occupational therapy and many other health professions. Additionally, it provides eye-opening, concrete examples of the aforementioned barriers to evidence-based practice from the perspectives of everyday practitioners.

 

Note: I have preserved the sequence and overall flow of the discussion while removing some unrelated comments for the ease of reading.

EBP Facebook Original Post

After the link was posted, the first commenter stated:

“I would be cautious in recommending this intervention. It is not considered evidence-based. If a family is considering doing it, it is our duty as the professional to let them know it is considered experimental. Maybe this has to do with the lack of training courses as well.”

 

In response, another individual referenced several other controversial, newer, or minimally-researched treatments that are considered by many OT professionals to be “experimental” and cited their widespread use as a reason to continue using them:

“Same with [Masgutova], the Astronaut Program, [The Alert Program], [Interactive Metronome], [Integrated Listening Systems], I could go on and on. I am always on this thread saying evidence based! But, Wilbarger does have a long history of practice and I have met so many therapists, teachers, and families swearing by it and I have seen it work myself. Unfortunately in OT, there is very little of what we do, especially in [pediatrics] with research to back it. If we used that rationale all the time, there would be very little treatment modalities.

 

Another practitioner appeared to agree with her, saying “I find the research comment that comes up almost comical. When I was in school 20 years ago there wasn’t enough research to even support the effectiveness of OT interventions in many ways…I find minimizing new therapy techniques due to lack of specific research techniques to be limiting to our field.

 

Unfortunately, these commenters and several others clearly demonstrated the way in which many OT practitioners fail to use a well-balanced, evidence-based approach to OT intervention and choose instead to place more confidence in personal experiences or anecdotes than high-quality research or other reputable sources.

 

Advocating for Evidence-Based Practice: Advancing Patient and Professional Outcomes

At this point, another group member acknowledged the limitations of research in OT but argued that it is still crucial to use the best evidence available to make treatment decisions:

“…A lack of evidence is not evidence the intervention is lacking, only that its efficacy has not yet been tested or established by research methods. You are right in that if we only ever used [clinical research] evidence based interventions we would have a very narrow practice. But to suggest weak evidence is strong is very wrong. And to suggest peer review gives credit is also dangerous. We need to combine evidence (at all levels) with our clinical wisdom.

 

As the conversation continued, more therapists chimed in with reasons why the treatment in the original post was not evidence based and why the original poster and others should be wary:

  • “If you look deeper [into a research article linked on the Masgutova website], this is not strong evidence in a respected journal. Many are published in ‘pay to publish’ journals. Just because something is published or peer reviewed doesn’t mean the conclusions it comes to are sound.”
  • I’m EXTREMELY skeptical about a link that takes me right to a sales page. Reminds me of a day-long Brain Gym training that was nothing but a thinly disguised sales pitch for much more costly trainer training.”
  • We need to be critical consumers of research to continue to move our profession forward. Many of the articles presented in that link are theoretical, not actually something that contributes to establishing an evidence base. And there appears to be minimal research into efficacy that (1) addresses functional performance changes related to occupational performance and (2) have been done by independent researchers who aren’t affiliated with Masgutova. Those two things should be red flags for OTs…in the meantime, we can say we’ve seen results anecdotally, but we can’t say that the intervention is evidence based.
  • “Please be aware that what is presented [on the Masgutova website] is heavily self-promotional and a marketing tool (while looking scientific). Very few [studies] appear peer reviewed – the [study] on EEG findings makes sweeping statements based on a single case, [and] the rest are postings of non-published cases, anecdotes, and heavily biased blog material.”
  • “Most sites touting reflex integration have few or no primary research references and mainly blog articles, magazine references, infomercials, or just anecdotes. We need to support our role [in] OT treatment with critical analysis and current science.”

 

Soon the discussion turned toward the complexity of evidence-based practice and individual clinicians’ understanding of what that meant for everyday practitioners. It was encouraging to see the number of important points commenters made about how complex evidence-based practice can be:

  • “[The original post and ensuing discussion are] a real case in point for how establishing evidence is a complex and skilled process, we need to critically evaluate the methods, the review process, [and] how it fits with other relevant research.”
  • Evidence-based practice has to include our clinical experience as well. All levels of evidence have a place. Research is important and should influence practice in a thoughtful way. I would not exclude trying a new approach that could help a client for lack of research nor would I persist with a new method that doesn’t work for my client, no matter how much research indicates efficacy.”
  • “I’m far more cautious about a new approach that touts an evidence base which is weak, than a clinically well tried approach which is poorly researched and that fact is acknowledged.”

 

As the discussion wound down, it became clear that there was a divide between clinicians who continued to believe in the efficacy of the treatment based on the website’s provided “literature” and personal anecdotes and those who remained highly skeptical of it. However, the well-reasoned and intelligent statements from multiple clinicians advocating for a multi-pronged approach to evidence-based practice demonstrate that it is crucial to understand the complexity and value of multiple types of evidence for providing high-quality, patient-centered, and effective OT services.

Ignoring Evidence-based Practice: The Potential to Cause Patient and Professional Harm

Disappointingly, despite the many comments advocating for a more evidence-based approach to practice, other participants in the conversation continued to cite the “lack of evidence and research in OT” to support their continued use of treatments that have limited evidence for their effectiveness.

 

It is not the use of “untested” interventions that is the most alarming in these scenarios – every treatment has been “untested” at some point, and clinicians can collect valuable data on outcomes for clients who receive new or emerging interventions that can help inform practice. Rather, it is these clinician’s seeming inability to critically analyze evidence, overreliance on personal experience and outdated information, and outright dismissal of available evidence or cautionary advice to justify their use of fad “interventions” with little or no proven impact on functional performance that is most distressing and potentially dangerous.

In addition to relying too heavily on anecdotal experience, individuals who appear to be unfamiliar with the multifaceted nature of evidence-based practice frequently used a bandwagon approach (“Everyone is using it, so it must be OK”) and the “lack of evidence for OT” excuse (which I disprove here) as the basis for clinical decision-making regarding the use of reflex integration, Astronaut Training, the Masgutova method, and other controversial interventions.

It’s true that dismissing new approaches or interventions simply because they are new and as-of-yet untested can limit treatment options that may be beneficial for clients. However, it is important to recognize that many healthcare interventions are not “minimized” because they are new, but because they are untested or unproven. Just as physicians and public health officials are cautious when recommending newly-developed drugs or treatments, occupational therapy practitioners should take a measured, evidence-based approach to using any interventions without sufficient evidence to determine clear risks and benefits to clients.

New treatment approaches should never be outright dismissed, but it is the practitioner’s responsibility to educate patients about the emerging nature of the treatment, carefully review all available evidence, and monitor closely for negative outcomes and functional outcomes linked to changes in occupational performance. By ignoring this responsibility, OT practitioners are taking a dangerous approach to professional practice with potential ramifications at the individual, population, and even policy levels as our professional credibility is damaged or diminished by the use of ineffective or sham interventions.

 

Conclusion

In the Facebook discussion above, multiple clinicians relied too heavily on personal experience and weak evidence to support the use of unproven occupational therapy interventions. However, the conversation also highlighted other professionals’ use of a more evidence-based approach to intervention that incorporated all three elements of the evidence-based practice triad – high-quality research or clinical evidence, solid clinical reasoning, and knowledge of client factors:

 

Again, this isn’t to say that clinicians should never try new treatments with clients just because they don’t have multiple research studies backing them up. However, it is important to implement the principles of evidence-based practice when trying new interventions – by conducting a thorough review of available information and literature, thinking critically about the intervention’s mechanisms and goals, and considering how it will impact a client’s occupational performance before and after implementing it.

 

This discussion highlights major hurdles to evidence-based practice that exist among OT professionals with a wide variety of experience, practice settings, and education backgrounds. The following are several recommendations for improving your and others’ understanding of and implementation of evidence in practice:

  • Have ongoing, open dialogue with colleagues and others about their practice decisions
  • Increase awareness about what constitutes high-quality evidence versus marketing materials or propaganda
  • Improve education about implementing evidence-based practice effectively (i.e. blending clinical reasoning, patient values, and quality research evidence)
  • Reduce or eliminate the use and promotion of interventions that deviate greatly from the foundational values of OT and do not significantly impact patient participation in or return to meaningful roles, routines, and occupations

 

In the future, I hope to see more occupational therapy practitioners taking the time and effort to identify, analyze, and apply high-quality evidence across practice settings and patient populations. Ultimately, dialogues like the one above indicate that we are making progress towards this goal, but that we still have a ways to go.

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Evidence Based OT Practice, Part I: Why OTs Should Stop Saying “There’s No Evidence for What We Do”

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Like most OT practitioners, I’ve had wonderful and terrible experiences with evidence-based practice. I’ve worked with clinicians across the spectrum – from those who are up-to-date experts in their practice area to therapists whose only sources of evidence were Pinterest and occasional chats with coworkers.

 

As I’ve started working and participating in more professional dialogues about occupational therapy practice, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. In every setting where I’ve worked or done fieldwork, in online forums (including this blog), and at every conference I’ve heard people saying, “There’s no evidence for anything we do in OT!”

 

Just as an example, consider the two images below, both from online discussions I’ve seen or participated in this past year:

EBP Blog Comment Screenshot

Source: WTF Blog Post Comment Section

 

EBP Facebook Comment Screenshot

Source: Pediatric Occupational Therapists Facebook Group

 

At first I was quite confused by these statements. After all, I spent two years in a master’s program learning about different types of evidence that validate and legitimize the practice of occupational therapy – so how could these people say there wasn’t any evidence for OT intervention? It didn’t make any sense.

 

But as I joined the workforce and began spending more time at professional conferences, team meetings, and other events I noticed that few people cited anything other than their own experience, outdated trainings, or anecdotes from friends to back up what they were doing with their clients. Despite the professional push for evidence-based practice, countless news stories about the value and impact of OT, and my professors’ unending lists of references and clinical experience with the methods and information I learned, it seemed that many of the clinicians I interacted with did not use or even believe in a multifaceted, evidence-based approach to practice.

 

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Top 10 Etsy Finds for Occupational Therapists

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The holidays are fast approaching, and I’m here to make your gift-giving for fellow OTs easy! In true OT-addict fashion, even my personal gift-giving style just screams “occupational therapist!” I love giving fun, functional, and meaningful gifts to my friends and family, and shopping on Etsy makes it easy for me to find gifts that will make everyone on my list happy.

In case you haven’t shopped on Etsy before, the site is basically a huge online “maker marketplace” where crafters, artists, designers, and creators of all kinds set up virtual shops to sell their wares. It’s truly an amazing testament to the unlimited creativity that exists in the world, and you can get lost on the site for hours, sidetracked from your original mission by pages and pages of cool creations.

As an added bonus, Etsy makes it easy to shop local for the holidays. In addition to sorting items by price, relevance, and other categories, you can search for goods by geographic area to find local shops or gifts nearby. So now you can shop local from the comfort of your own couch!

Read on to find fun and functional gift ideas for every OT on your list!

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How to Handle Loneliness in Grad School Part 2: 13 Tips for Making Friends and Making it Through

Loneliness in OT School (2)
The first post in this mini-series dealt with my experiences with loneliness as a first year graduate student and how I eventually overcame it. It was a difficult year, and I wish I knew then all the things I know now – I would have been a much happier, more social student! In any case, I made it through my first year as an OT student, and now I have several good friends both in and outside my program who have become part of my new friend groups.

If you are struggling with feeling like you don’t fit in or you’re having a hard time making friends, I hope these tips will help! After reading this post, I hope you’ll find that making friends as a graduate student is easier than you thought.
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How to Handle Loneliness in Grad School Part 1: How I Beat the Blues

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Psychosocial health is an important element of any person’s daily functioning, and it can have a significant impact on performance in many other areas of life. Loneliness is something that everybody has probably experienced in life, and it’s something that I often struggle with whenever I have to start over in a new social setting – for example, moving to a new city and starting grad school!

 

Although I am often described as a talkative, friendly, and outgoing person, I’ve had several experiences when I’ve felt extremely socially isolated and lonely, such as my first year of college and a job as a camp counselor. Although in these settings I was surrounded by people and opportunities to make friends and have fun, I spent a lot of time alone and struggling to find people to connect with. It’s a challenge I’ve continued to have in my adult life, but it’s also something that has helped me better understand myself and how I can be most successful as I continue to move around, start new endeavors, and meet new people.

 

This post was difficult for me to write, because it really puts all of the negative feelings, anxiety, and loneliness I experienced during my first year of graduate school out there. It’s not easy admitting that I had a hard time, and maybe to most people I seemed fine. But if I’m honest, my first year in graduate school was a challenging transition that I was not prepared for. Knowing that many of my friends from undergrad were also in the same boat (living/working in a new place without many friends) and talking to them about my situation made it a little easier, but I had to learn the hard way that life in grad school is NOT the same as it is in undergrad – or at least it wasn’t for me!

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Therapeutic Use of Soap: 7 Tips for Improving Your OT Hygiene Routine

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TRUE STORY: Due to God’s wonderful sense of humor, on the same day I was writing this post I experienced a perfect example of just how fun (and by fun I mean ABSOLUTELY GROSS) it is to work with kids in any setting!


I knew when I chose this career that working in healthcare – especially as an occupational therapist – would put me in close proximity to many unsanitary situations. However, my academic and professional experiences in schools, SNFs, hospitals, and retirement communities have given me a new perspective on the importance of maintaining a hygienic therapeutic environment as an OT.

Earlier this year, a kindergartner at one of my schools had a bowel accident and came down to my room for help because the school nurse and social worker were gone. I asked him to go into the bathroom and get cleaned up while I found him some clean clothes to change into. When he was done, he opened the door and tried to hand me his heavily soiled underwear and pants. I quickly ushered him back into the bathroom, where I reminded him to flush the toilet (which he did with his hand) and helped him bag up his soiled clothes. When we were done, he tried to leave the bathroom without washing his hands. When I asked him to wash his hands, he got some soap, quickly rinsed it off, dried his hands and left. And for all I know, all the rest of my little friends are doing the exact same thing before they come to see me!

This was an extreme example of just how dirty a job as a school-based OT can be, but for many clinicians this sort of situation is a regular occurrence. And for many others, it may be an everyday occurrence that they’re just not aware of…So no matter where you work, hygiene for yourself and your clients is crucial.

Much of this information will probably come as second nature to OT practitioners working in hospital environments, as there are generally much stricter sanitation regulations than there are in other settings. But even if you work in settings where you aren’t regularly providing interventions related to toileting or other self-care tasks that might put you in direct contact with bodily fluids, good hygiene is still something you can promote in in your daily practice.

After the jump, read 6 tips that demonstrate how making changes to the person, environment, or occupation can help clean up bad hygiene habits and improve your therapy practice!

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So You Didn’t Get Into OT School…Now What?

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Not that long ago, you were busy getting observation hours, requesting letters of recommendation, navigating OTCAS, and submitting all your OT school applications. You had grand plans to move to a new town, start grad school, and prepare to join this profession you spent so much time reading, thinking, and learning about! So when you opened your inbox to an unexpected “We regret to inform you…” or “Welcome to the waitlist” email, you probably felt frustrated…disappointed…angry…maybe even heartbroken.

For the next few months, you’re stuck somewhere between hopeless and hanging on – waiting to hear whether you’re off the waitlist, watching other people get their acceptances, wondering whether you’ll ever get your chance. Although I got into OT school on my first try, I had a previous experience with investing a lot of time and energy into an application for a program I was desperate to get into…and then getting rejected. So I know how it feels, and if you’ve had this experience my heart goes out to you!

After getting rejected from that program several years ago, I spent a few days crying and wallowing. And then I picked myself up and tried again. My rejection from that program actually turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise; when I was accepted into a similar program the next year, it ended changing my life, introducing me to people who are some of my best friends today, and giving me opportunities to go places and do things I would never have been able to do otherwise! Life always has a way of working out, and once you get over the initial sting of rejection you will find a way to carry on.

Although it’s disappointing to learn that you are on the waitlist or you weren’t accepted at your chosen school(s), the tips below can help you make the most of this opportunity to strengthen your application and prepare yourself for the next application cycle.

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