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15 The data literacy learning and development needs of occupational therapists
  1. Suzy England
  1. Royal College of Occupational Therapists


Objective There is a lack of national occupational therapy impact data and occupational therapists report challenges collecting, using, and sharing information as part of professional practice. All occupational therapists need a firm grasp of data, but little is known about how confident occupational therapists feel working with data at different points in their career and in different roles and contexts.

The objective of this research is to better understand the challenges facing occupational therapists and to consider what activities will support the development of the professions data literacy skills as part of a two-year programme of activity led by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

Methods The research method is a UK survey open to every occupational therapist working in the UK (open throughout the duration of January). The survey is being shared through the monthly professional magazine (OT News), email networks, health and care digital forums as well as social media.

This is a descriptive study that will help the researcher to understand the confidence of occupational therapists to use, collect and share professional data alongside any barriers to improving data practices. The survey captures demographic and personal characteristics information which enables the researcher to identify differences between occupational therapists employed in different contexts in different geographical locations e.g. NHS and Local Authority as well clinical specialism e.g. physical and mental health. Occupational therapists are asked about their access to data literacy CPD opportunties and what they think they need from a professional body to improve their data literacy. The data will be analysed through descriptive statistics and the content analysis of open comments.

Results There were 349 responses to the survey with good representation from every region of the UK and different areas of practice. 60% of the occupational therapists who responded to the survey reported that they had satisfactory data knowledge skills to use systems in clinical practice. Occupational therapists are high users of multiple systems to collect and share information across organisational boundaries with only 18% of information sharing occurring through the electronic record keeping system. The most surprising finding was the skills and confidence gap. Despite 60% reporting good confidence to use systems, only 14% of occupational therapists felt confident to capture the impact of occupational therapy. Analysis of the survey findings identified that there was no significant difference in self-reported data knowledge confidence in different contexts of practice or at different points in an occupational therapists career. Those that rated themselves as having proficient data knowledge skills were employed in roles that were closer to data e.g. quality improvement and fellowships.

Conclusion Occupational therapists are high users of multiple electronic record keeping systems and the most frequently accessed professional development activity was system specific training. 60% of occupational therapists feel confident to use different systems in practice, however it is concerning that confidence drops to 14% when asked how this data is used to evidence the impact of occupational therapy. Occupational therapy information has three components, information that relates directly to the person e.g. ability or impairment and information that relates to a persons occupations and the environments in which these are carried out. As a profession, we need to increase our data literacy knowledge and skills in relation to knowing when it is appropriate to format our information in a structured, unstructured or semi structured way. Occupational therapists need to grow in confidence around how information needs to be structured to aid information sharing and if other formats are required for secondary purposes e.g. extracting and analysing information that relates to participation in occupations. The survey findings could be useful insights for pre and post registration providers of occupational therapy education, system developers, professional bodies and organisations who employ occupational therapists.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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