Health Care

Occupational therapist works where patients are

Occupational therapist Melissa Smith is taking her business on the road.

Smith is the owner of O.T. on Wheels, a business she started a couple of years ago after about 20 years of working in hospital and medical practice settings.

To her knowledge, she is the only occupational therapist in Wichita who offers outpatient therapy — not home health services — in clients' homes and workplaces. As with therapists who work in other settings, she takes referrals and bills insurance.

Her mobile practice satisfies her entrepreneurial spirit and her desire to focus less on billable hours and more on the satisfaction that helping clients gives her.

It also offers convenience for workers who need less time away from the office or stay-at-home mothers.

She started as Ergoability, focusing on ergonomics, but branched into outpatient therapy because it gave her more opportunity to work with individuals.

As an occupational therapist and ergonomics assessment specialist, she helps her clients become more functional and productive "in whatever they do."

When she set out on her own, she decided she didn't need an office: "I'd never be there — or never should be there."

She'd felt limited in medical settings, trying to ask the right questions to understand what a client's needs at work or at home were. It's easier to see the needs in the client's setting, she said. "I'm trying to put the person back in their normal situation."

Because she'd been a successful OT in medical settings, Smith assumed she'd have lots of business when she went out on her own. Her thought: "They're going to find out I'm out there, and I'm going to get a bazillion patients."

Reality surprised her. She has found that networking and getting the word out takes more effort than she'd expected. "It's all more complicated than I thought," she said. "It's really been quite a challenge."

She said about half of her work is with outpatient OT clients and about half is with ergonomics clients.

Smith travels light, carrying a few tools of the trade with her, such as hand helpers and light weights. But "a lot of times, the household is your equipment, or the workplace is your equipment," she said.