Objective: To summarize the research evidence available from systematic reviews of the efficacy of occupational therapy (OT) for practitioners, researchers, purchasing organizations and policy-makers. Data source: The search for systematic reviews was conducted in PubMed and the Cochrane Library (October 2004). Methods: The reviews included were those that utilized a systematic search for evidence with regard to OT for specific patient groups. Data were summarized for patient group, interventions, outcome domains, type of study designs included, method of data synthesis and conclusions. Results: Fourteen systematic reviews were included. Three reviews related to rheumatoid arthritis, four reviewed stroke and four focused on elderly people. Reviews of Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy and mental illnesses were also identified. The reviews of rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and elderly people showed evidence of the efficacy of OT in increasing functional abilities. Positive results were presented for quality of life and social participation in elderly people and stroke respectively. The efficacy of OT in all other patient groups is unknown due to insufficient evidence. Conclusion: This summary shows that elderly people and people with stroke or rheumatoid arthritis can expect to benefit from comprehensive OT. Evidence of the efficacy of specific interventions is sparse and should be addressed in future research. The evidence that does exist should be incorporated into OT practice. © 2005 Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.