Orthotics and prosthesis, a field of healthcare study that you likely have never even heard of, is among the highest paying master’s degrees. Students interested in learning more about this career path should start by discovering what orthotists and prosthetists actually do throughout their workday. Professionals in the field of orthotics and prosthesis work with both patients themselves and the medical equipment they need to move, function and live better or more independently. They also work with other members of a patient’s healthcare team. Much of the day-to-day work an orthotist or prosthetist performs fits into the category of evaluating the patient’s medical device needs, developing those medical devices and assisting patients with learning to use and take care of their devices.
Evaluate a Patient’s Needs
An orthotist or prosthetist isn’t a doctor. Instead, these professionals are experts in the proper design, creation and use of medical devices like orthopedic braces and artificial limbs. Rather than having to diagnose or develop a treatment plan for a patient, your role as an orthotist or prosthetist would be to connect the patient with a medical device. Typically, the kind of medical device associated with professional orthotics and prosthetists is a custom-made one fitted to the individual, not a cheap, generic brace sold on a drugstore’s shelf.
A physician’s diagnosis and prescription will help narrow down the general type of orthotic or prosthetic medical device a patient needs, but from there, it’s up to you to figure out what medical device is best suited to that individual. You start that process by talking to the patient about their life, their needs, and the obstacles they face because of their injury or disability. A patient who is self-conscious about their appearance but less worried about increasing their function might require only a passive (non-moving) artificial limb that looks as natural as possible, while another patient might need a bionic limb that does more but also stands out more.
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Another part of the preparation for getting your patient the medical device they require is finding the perfect fit. Orthotists and prosthetists are responsible for measuring and taking impressions of the body part to which the medical device will be applied, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
In the real world, orthotists and prosthetists may have to keep in mind certain constraints, like insurance coverage restrictions and affordability, when determining what medical devices they can provide to patients.
Create Orthotic and Prosthetic Medical Devices
Once you know what the patient needs out of their medical device and have the measurements needed to accomplish it, it’s time to start designing and making that brace, limb or other device. Part of this challenge is choosing the materials to make the device out of, according to the BLS. Making this choice requires you to consider different factors, like how much a limb made out of the material will weigh, how much weight it will be able to support and how durable it will be when used on a daily or regular basis. You don’t want to equip a patient with a brace or an artificial limb that will be impossible for them to lift or one that will bend, buckle or fail as soon as the patient puts weight on it.
Depending on your work environment, you may or may not be personally responsible for making the medical devices out of the selected material and in accordance with the patients’ measurements. Some orthotists and prosthetists don’t make the medical devices themselves but instead oversee the medical appliance technicians who do this work, the BLS reported. To design, fabricate and manufacture these medical devices, prosthetists and orthotists must understand the foundations of materials science and engineering, in addition to medicine.
Developing orthotic and prosthetic medical devices requires you to use special techniques and tools, such as design software and three-dimensional printers.
Work With Patients on Device Use and Repair
Using a healthy, uninured limb may be natural, but using an orthopedic brace or an artificial limb is not. Even if you have designed a medical device with superior performance and perfect fit, you can’t just hand it to the patient and expect them to know exactly how to use it and take care of it. Part of your job as an orthotist or prosthetist is to teach patients how to use their brace or prosthetic limb and, if needed, adjust it for better fit and function. The limb may require adjustments over time and, if it is damaged or develops considerable wear, may need to be repaired. As someone with a master’s-level education and supervised clinical training in orthotic or prosthetic limbs, you are the one the patient will turn to for help adjusting or fixing their medical device.
Documentation is important in the field of orthotics and prosthetics, as in other areas of medicine. The care and instruction you provide, as well as the date the patient received the device and its specifications, should be recorded in the patient’s records for future use.