Occupational Therapy and Primary Health Care

Occupational therapists work toward improving the health of the individuals, families and communities in various community-based settings, often as part of interdisciplinary teams.


As described by the Declaration of the Alma-Ata, primary health care addresses the broad determinants of health that extend beyond the traditional health sector to promote health within the context of a continuum of services. It encourages community participation in the planning, organization, operation and control of services. Improving the organization and delivery of primary health care is viewed by many as one of the major challenges currently facing the health care system today but is central to the sustainability and revitalization of Canada’s health care system. In Manitoba, the vision for primary health care includes cost effective, affordable and sustainable services that are accessible, integrated and uninterrupted across the continuum of care and delivered by the most appropriate provider at the right place and time.


Occupational therapy plays an important role in the health of individuals, families and communities. Occupation, a central concern of the practice of occupational therapy, is what people do to look after themselves, the work they do and the activities they do for leisure. How people perform their occupations is believed to be an important determinant of health and is influenced by personal factors, environments and the occupations that people do. Occupational therapy is the only health profession whose education is entirely devoted to the study of occupational performance and its impact on people’s health and wellness.


Occupational therapists share their professional knowledge and skills by providing direct service, consultation, education, research and policy analysis in numerous sectors. These sectors include health, education, housing, employment, leisure and recreation, justice and transportation. Using a variety of approaches, such as health promotion, injury prevention, chronic disease management and community development, occupational therapists participate in primary health care service delivery and work to address the broad determinants of health.


Occupational therapists currently play a variety of roles in primary health care working with children, youth, adults and older adults to promote, maintain and restore health and well-being.

Several examples of occupational therapists engaged in primary health care in Manitoba are provided in the 2005 publication, Occupational Therapists and Primary Health Care. They reflect the broad determinants of health of populations within a context of promoting physical and mental health and include the elements of promotive, preventative, restorative and supportive services.