Expanding OT clinical services

Creating and delivering community-based services

by Michele Berhorst  and Ryan Risley •  November 27, 2018

OT Services team members. Back row, left to right: Stephanie Stegman, Sue Tucker, Lisa Carson, Stacy Baker, Katie McQueen and Jamie Archer. Front row (left to right): Monica Perlmutter, Elizabeth Heiny, Carla Walker, Emily Pitassi, Anna Van Voorhis and Karen Balk.

When Pat Nellis, OTD, OTR/L, was recruited to the Program in Occupational Therapy in 2013 to head its Community Practice, she immediately saw the potential for growth of its existing service lines into the community through outpatient clinical services.

“I came to Washington University Occupational Therapy because I strongly believe that health care does not exist solely within the walls of an institution. Having worked in multiple settings for many years, I consistently saw patients leave who were not prepared to take on the challenge of everyday life,” Nellis says. “I wanted to have an opportunity to create and deliver community-based services that are delivered at home or where they are needed and are not constrained by the setting. Through our services, we are able to deliver those critical outpatient services where they matter the most in a patient's life.”

Nellis concentrated her efforts on recruiting and hiring occupational therapists who had relationships with physicians who would be a good fit to practice team-based care and provide a patient-centered medical home in their clinics. In 2016, the Program acquired Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center from The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis. As a result, more than 20 hand and upper extremity specialists became employees who provide ongoing care and serve the patients of plastic and orthopedic surgery physicians. The union, however, created two separate brands of clinical business assets: Community Practice and Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center. It was clear that a concentrated and strategic marketing plan needed to be in place, so Nellis hired Ryan Risley, MPM, clinical marketing specialist, to consolidate and rebrand themselves as OT Services.

“We needed an overarching brand to represent Community Practice and Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center. Washington University Occupational Therapy was formed and aligned with Washington University Physicians,” Risley explains. “With guidance from the Family Practice Plan and Medical Public Affairs, a foundational marketing strategy began to take shape.”

Risley’s first priority was creating a new website to leverage the established and well-recognized clinical brand of Washington University Physicians. Print collateral, advertising and presentations were rebranded and refreshed to drive visitors to the OT Services website. To further strengthen brand recognition and affiliation, an email strategy was developed and the “OT Clinical Connection” monthly newsletter established. Washington University therapists write the articles with a focus on timely, interesting information for healthy living.

“After this initial positioning was complete, it was time to start building awareness in the community of what outpatient OT services we have to offer,” Risley says. “We held partnership meetings with local health-care agencies and organizations and attended community events that focused on the areas we specialize in such as pediatrics, older adults, wheelchair seating and mobility, and fall prevention.”

Getting the word out in the community also included leveraging mass marketing opportunities such as becoming the exclusive sponsor of “The Grip on the Game,” a local radio show that airs before St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues games. In addition to these radio spots, weekly ads run in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Washington University Occupational Therapy was featured in a full-page article in St. Louis Magazine’s popular “Top Docs” issue.

All of these marketing efforts are helping to position the program to build a model that will provide team-based care, manage patient transitions through different stages of life and allow our patients the ability to live independently and do what they need and want to do. A current project in that model, for example, focuses on assisting older adults with an emphasis on functional risk and self-management. Nellis feels the future of health care is at the specialty and primary care levels with the goal being to prevent repeated and costly hospital readmissions; this will be the new model of care and delivery of services in the near future.

“As a result of multiple factors, such as our aging population, economics and growing health care expenditures, it is going to be critical to shift into a more preventive model that is convenient to patients and their families and focuses on team-based care that adds value, with an emphasis on prevention,” Nellis explains. “This means that we’ll be helping populations stay healthier by supporting them to manage their own health and manage risks that may lead to functional decline and higher health care costs in the future. We’re staring in the face of some major changes in how we deliver care, and it will look very different in the future.”

If you are interested in signing up for the eNewsletter or visiting the new website, please visit otservices.wustl.edu.


Close Get Started Panel

Get Started

We welcome inquiries from prospective students, potential collaborators, community partners, alumni and others who want to connect with us. Please complete the form below to begin the conversation.

Close Schedule a Visit Panel

Schedule an Info Session

We are excited that you are considering applying to the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University. Please join us for a Zoom Information Session for either our entry-level MSOT or OTD degrees or our online Post-Professional OTD. Current faculty members will discuss the degree program and answer any question you may have. We are offering these sessions on the following days and times. The content is the same for each one, so you only need to sign up for one.

Upcoming ENTRY-LEVEL Degree ZOOM Info sessions:

Schedule an Entry-Level Info Session

Upcoming PP-OTD Degree ZOOM Info session:

Schedule a PP-OTD Info Session