Occupational Therapist Sued Over a Reacher

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I am getting increasingly frustrated at the failure of other OT’s to understand the value of education when prescribing equipment.  While it might seem on the surface that use of a reacher, tub scrubber or bath mat are “common sense”, my experience is that common sense is not common, and I don’t want my license on the line.

Take a reacher for example.  I have seen people use them as a cane.  Or people who have one that is too short and almost fall out of their chair trying to access that item that is “just a little further”.  Maybe they think that reacher can handle the over-sized glass jar of pickles and when it doesn’t the jar ends up shattering on the counter in front of them, landing on their lap, or worse, their head.  To send something to someone in the mail, and to indicate that “education is not necessary” exposes the OT to liability and the client to risk.

Why don’t OT’s hear about stories of devices gone array?  Mainly because when an OT is sued over a piece of equipment, the case can take years to resolve and when it does, the OT is sworn to secrecy about the outcome, otherwise they can be sued for breach of settlement.  So OT’s: don’t think these lawsuits don’t happen!

In the world of insurance there is funding for equipment and funding for education to ensure that the equipment is appropriate and the client can safely and independently demonstrate its use.  I have had to return many-a-things that I thought looked great on paper to find out they don’t actually work for that client in that case.  As OT’s we need to take our prescription responsibilities seriously and should never jeopardize our education, training or experience under the assumption that someone will properly use an item we consider “low risk”.

So, when I prescribe devices, and ask an insurer to fund time for an OTA or myself to provide them, it is because that is part of my judiciary duty to my client, my college, my license, my training, and my sense of responsibility.  If another OT feels the device is suitable, but says education is not required, then they can feel free to order those devices themselves and run the direct liability risk of being sued over a reacher.