Profile of occupational therapy services in non-urban settings: A global scoping review

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Regional, rural, and remote people represent nearly half the world’s population, yet experience disproportionally higher disease, mortality, and disability rates, coupled with limited healthcare access. Occupational therapy has committed to occupational justice, yet no descriptive framework of services provided by occupational therapists in non-urban locations exists. Understanding current non-urban service practices will provide a basis for non-urban service development and research to reduce this inequity.
Four databases were systematically searched for publications describing non-urban occupational therapy services, from any country, written in English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish, from 2010 – 2020. Publications were screened against criteria for inclusion, and data identified using an extraction tool, and presented in a frequency table, on a map, and in a searchable supplementary table.
Only 117 publications were included discussing services provided to populations across 19 countries. They were mostly published in English (98%), and about populations from English-speaking countries (70%). Included publications discussed individualist services (65%), for defined age groups (74%), and for people with specific medical diagnoses (58%). Services were commonly provided in the client’s community (56%), originating from urban locations (45%) where the provider travelled (26%) or contacted clients using telehealth (19%). Individual 1:1 enabling strategies most described (59%), including remediation (34%), compensation (9%), or education (7%). Community enablement strategies were infrequently described (14%), focused primarily on transformation to improve existing service delivery (9%), with some redistributive justice (3%), and one community development strategy (1%). Exploratory research services accounted for the remaining studies (27%). Differences were noted between Global North and South approaches.
Globally, occupational therapy has limited focus on non-urban services and favours individualist rehabilitative strategies provided by therapists remote from the client’s context. Further research is required on the effectiveness and appropriateness of occupational therapy strategies to improve rural/urban inequity and health outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalAustralian Occupational Therapy Journal
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Aug 2022


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