Skip to main content


The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a dynamic profession where evidence-based practitioners are essential. Occupational therapists work collaboratively with clients in setting goals to achieve optimal clinical outcomes. The consistent application of evidence-based practice when helping individuals regain independence and improve their quality of life is necessary to promote effective and efficient care for patients.

If you are a working professional looking to become an occupational therapy leader, this blog is for you. We will explore the central components of evidence-based practice in occupational therapy and explain how you can make informed decisions by integrating ongoing learning and development into your patient and family care plans.

What is Evidence-Based Practice?

Evidence-based practice is fundamentally the idea of using the best available research evidence as the foundation for the practice interventions performed for specific conditions or aims. The goal of evidence-based practice is to ensure practitioners are implementing credible and effective strategies as knowledge of best practices continues to grow with ongoing development and evaluation.

There are several different types of evidence that a practitioner might want to use in their practice. Some types are considered research evidence, while others are considered clinical evidence. Examples of research evidence include:

  • Results of experimental studies
  • Findings from quasi-experimental research studies
  • Determinations from non-experimental research designs
  • Conclusions drawn from qualitative studies

Clinical evidence is equally valuable for guiding patient care decisions. Next, let’s discuss the different types of clinical evidence on the importance of evidence-based practice. 

Why is Evidence-Based Practice Important?

An occupational therapist will work with patients to help them live life to the fullest capacity. The outcomes of therapy are largely determined by the goals and functional needs of the patients who entrust their journey toward independence and quality of life to the skills of occupational therapists. Evidence-based practice is important because it helps ensure patients receive therapy that has been proven to produce the desired results.

Clinical practice guidelines are developed with the intent of providing the best available evidence for specific conditions or goals that a therapist may treat. Occupational therapists can make informed decisions when they adopt evidence-based practice. This means staying current on the latest research while also generating and applying clinical evidence in practice.

Examples of clinical evidence that is incorporated into patient care decisions include:

  • Expert opinion 
  • Clinical expertise
  • Organizational learning
  • Consumer preferences
  • Patient and family experience 

All of the factors above contribute to evidence-based practice when routinely examined and evaluated for creating optimal clinical outcomes. 

Appraising Evidence for Strength and Quality

One of the key skills that is required for evidence-based practitioners in the field of occupational therapy is the ability to appraise the available evidence for both strength and quality. There are numerous rating scales available to help clinicians evaluate whether the findings from research studies or clinical evidence translation projects are credible or marked by flaws that undermine the validity of the conclusions.

The strength of evidence is primarily based on the design of the research. Study designs with a high strength rating include systematic reviews, meta-analyses, randomized controlled trials, and other experimental research designs. Still valuable but lower in terms of evidence strength are study types such as cohort studies, case studies, observational findings, and anecdotal evidence.

Just like the strength of evidence can be evaluated when a practitioner is looking to apply research in practice, the quality of available evidence is also important to assess. Below are some questions that might be asked about a study to help inform the quality of the evidence:

  • What sampling method was used to select the study participants?
  • Was the sample size large enough to form reliable conclusions?
  • Are there confounding variables or biases implicit in the research design? 
  • Is the type of study completed appropriate for the research question being asked? 

One of the benefits of earning a doctorate degree in occupational therapy is the ability to not only appraise the evidence for strength and quality but to compile findings that are from strong, quality studies. 

Translational Research in Evidence-Based Practice 

When an occupational therapist is looking for evidence to apply in the clinical setting, it’s important to evaluate whether the population in a research study article has characteristics that match the population where the practitioner is practicing. A study on a therapy procedure used effectively in middle-aged women may not translate to a geriatric population, for example.

Types of patient care decisions that an occupational therapist may research for the best available evidence to apply in practice include:

  • Selection of the most appropriate diagnostic tests for a particular condition
  • Considerations such as the cost vs. benefit and potential risks of an intervention
  • Understanding potential root causes and pathophysiology of an illness
  • Prognostic information and expected clinical outcomes with different types of therapy

Looking for evidence that applies to the patient population you are working with is at the foundation of evidence translation, also called translational research or “bench to bedside” studies. Evidence translation is when a clinician takes an intervention that is demonstrated to be effective in academic research and applies the intervention in practice.

When the process of evidence translation is formalized with a design and outlined methods, translational research studies are conducted and able to be evaluated. Translational research is essential for determining whether academic research is indeed applicable to practice and whether the effectiveness of an intervention in a controlled research environment is equally effective when implemented in the real world.

Evidence-Based Practice Promotes Clinical Accountability

Not only does evidence-based practice encourage ongoing learning and professional development within the field of occupational therapy, but it also promotes clinical accountability for excellence in practice. As licensed healthcare professionals, occupational therapists are responsible for providing services that will help patients develop, recover, and gain the skills they need to engage in their daily work.

Practitioners who engage in continuing education activities to develop additional credentials and competencies in the field of occupational therapy are trusted by patients to know and apply therapies that work. In situations where a patient care decision may require unique therapy options, evidence-based practitioners may familiarize themselves with similar case studies and rely on their expertise gained from critical thinking through the art of practice. 

Become an Evidence-Based Occupational Therapy Leader with American International College

Evidence-based practice plays a vital role in achieving optimal patient outcomes in the field of occupational therapy. The skills you need to succeed as an evidence-based therapist can be learned and honed in the Online Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program offered by American International College.

If you are ready to contribute to the future of evidence-based practice in the field of occupational therapy, a doctorate degree in occupational therapy can help you do this. American International College’s Post-Professional OTD program will prepare you to:

  • Integrate theory into your therapy practice
  • Design occupational therapy curriculum for future practitioners
  • Influence policies that impact occupational therapy practice, research, and education
  • Engage in scholarship activities for professional development 
  • Gain confidence in critically evaluating research findings for application to practice

With a Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate, you can take your practicing therapist role to another level and qualify for faculty positions in academia, research and more. Mentoring the next generation of professionals with your clinical expertise is one meaningful way to exercise your leadership potential in the field of occupational therapy. 

To learn more about this exciting Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate curriculum offered by American International College, visit the program page today. 

Back to top