University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Redesigning Lives Globally
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Student Research

Critically Appraised Topics (CATs)

About CATs

New articles documenting the effectiveness of health care interventions are constantly published. Finding, reviewing, and appraising the quality of research and its applications to clinical situations can be time-consuming. CATs (Critically Appraised Topics) are brief, timely reviews of the best quality research pertaining to a particular clinical question.

Each CAT below is designed to be helpful to both consumers and providers of occupational therapy services. They are developed by USC occupational therapy graduate students enrolled in Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice as part of their training to become evidence-based practitioners. Each CAT has been appraised by course faculty, but have not been subjected to the peer-review process. Students complete the CATs as a group. Authorship is listed in alphabetical order and does not reflect priority of contributions to the work.

The goal of this page is to provide easily accessible, readable, high-quality appraisals of the best current knowledge on the effectiveness of interventions used in occupational therapy practice. Because these CATs will be added to, revised, and updated on an annual basis, please bookmark this page as an actively curated research resource. Suggestions for CATs topics can be emailed to faculty mentor Ashley Halle .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Structure of CATs

Development of CATs typically follow a step-wise structure similar to the below:

  1. Description of a timely and relevant clinical situation which raises a question about the likely effectiveness of an intervention.
  2. Development of a “researchable” question, often referred to as a PICO question (patient, intervention, comparison intervention, outcome), based upon the clinical situation that describes the patient population, intervention (and sometimes a comparative intervention), and desired outcome(s).
  3. Identification of key words from PICO question to use in searching relevant literature.
  4. Execution of search, often using PubMed or ProQuest databases.
  5. Appraisal and selection of the best quality studies available.
  6. Review and summary of the strengths and limitations of each study, followed by a summary of all the findings.
  7. Conclusion with a clinical “bottom line” which applies information from the studies to the clinical situation initially asked.

What CATs are NOT

CATs are not exhaustive appraisals of all available literature. Instead, CATs are brief reviews of the best quality (and usually most recent) studies available on a topic. In general, this means the studies reviewed are usually meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials. However, sometimes limited research is available and reviewed studies include cohort and cross-sectional study designs .

Strengths and limitations

Strengths of CATs include:

  • are brief, easily understood
  • are timely—address current literature
  • are related directly to real-life clinical situations

Limitations of CATs include:

  • are not exhaustive, and may not be representative
  • can potentially be wrong or inaccurate
  • often have a short shelf-life—which is why the date of creation and update are indicated on each CAT

Student-Developed CATs

Mental Health

Algiers, et al. (2011). What is occupational therapy’s role in mental health practice and helping client’s return to work?(PDF)

Physical Disabilities

Davies, et al. (2012). What is the effect of occupational therapy based constraint induced movement therapy (CIMT) on improving upper extremity function? (PDF)

Adam, et al. (2011). How effective is occupation-based intervention for individuals recovering from stroke? (PDF)

Alfawaz, et al. (2011). What is the effect of splinting on spastic hemiplegia? (PDF)

Hashi et al. (2011). Do energy conservation techniques decrease fatigue in adults with Multiple Sclerosis?(PDF)

Older Adults

Cogan, et al. (2012). What is the effect of education in joint protection techniques for adults with rheumatoid arthritis? (PDF)

Aaron, et al. (2011). Do environmental modifications reduce falls in older adults? (PDF)

Alvarez, et al. (2011). What is the effect of OT on reducing caregiver burden? (PDF)

Health, Wellness, and Participation

Ackerman, et al. (2011). Is a comprehensive lifestyle management program an effective treatment option for type 2 diabetes?(PDF)


Abbey, et al. (2011). Does non-nutritive sucking improve oral motor skills in pre-term infants? (PDF)

Armen, et al. (2011). What is the effect of occupational therapy handwriting interventions on handwriting skills?(PDF)

Armstrong, et al. (2011). Can therapy dogs increase social interaction in children with autism? (PDF)

Asgekar, et al. (2011). Do handwriting adaptations and strategies work in improving handwriting legibility? (PDF)

Beverage, et al. (2011). What is the effect of occupational therapy-based handwriting interventions on handwriting performance? (PDF)

Brahmabhadd, et al. (2011). What are the effects of occupational therapy interventions based entirely on Sensory Integration (SI) theory on children that are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? (PDF)

Brill et al. (2011). What is the effect of proprioception and deep pressure on improving attention and organization in children with autism spectrum disorders? (PDF)

Chae, et al. (2011). Does oral stimulation promote sucking in premature infants? (PDF)

Grossman et al. (2011). What is the effect of deep pressure on children with autism spectrum disorder?(PDF)

Koenke, et al. (2011). In Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, what is the effect of sensory integration intervention on arousal level? (PDF)

Oettle, et al. (2011). Does hippotherapy improve motor control in children with cerebral palsy?(PDF)