What is Occupational Health
What is Occupational Health?
Occupational Health is often confused with the more traditional occupational health and safety or safety services of yesteryear and for many is an enigma of a service, never truly owned or managed well by any one department and rightly so.
Occupational Health is an overarching term used by many to cover things like ill health and sickness absence, health assessments, health surveillance, mental health, vaccinations and work related risk assessments. More recently during the pandemic occupational health practitioners have also been the subject of many referrals and health advice requests relating to coronavirus and covid.
Thus, Occupational Health professionals is often a term used to describe regulated clinicians, typically doctors, nurses, physiotherapists or specialised other healthcare practitioners that have focussed on health related to the workplace. Its a specialised area of medicine and one that requires specific training to understand not only the health condition but its impact on an individuals job and workplace.
Occupational Health Services - The Right Practitioner, First Time
The first major point to say is that occupational health as a service provider is NOT the NHS. However it will often dovetail into the NHS and in particular an individual employees GP where an employee is referred for advice or support following an appointment with a clinician.
One reason for highlighting this fact is that for many in the UK, we are accustomed to seeing a doctor in the first instance when we experience poor health and then being referred on. Whilst this approach is changing with the adoption of localised specialists. I am thinking here of the APP (advanced practice physiotherapists), who are easing pressure on GPs by seeing patients directly for musculoskeletal disorders, there can still be this mistaken belief that an employee needs to see a specialist doctor in order to assess their health or even to access other services such as physiotherapy or counselling.
The other important point to note within the realm of occupational health services is that simply being an Occupational Health Doctor / Physician or occupational health nurse / Advisor does not necessarily mean you're able to deliver the full range of services that constitute workplace health issues or work related health surveillance. In fact for some health surveillance related tests further specialised training will be required, think here the HSE vibration related requirements.
With such a broad area and range of expertise it can be pretty tough ask to find a provider, let alone a provider that can deliver exactly what your organisation needs. The reality is that many organisations outsource to other specialist providers or deliver on a sell what they can service approach that often ends with a referral to another provider for specialist care that they will oversee and report back to the employer on.
Lets be frank, when we are dealing with employee's health, its important to find the right practitioner first time. What this means is that regardless of whether you need health advice relating to a ill health such as a health condition or a referral for sickness absence, or mental health or even health surveillance finding the right practitioner that can support what you need when you need it greatly improves the organisation.
How? well for one its the obvious benefit to the employee. Enabling them to see the practitioner they need, sooner and therefore increase the likelihood of a recovery can not be understated. Of course there are also the benefits to an organisation, both culturally but also by receiving fewer onward referrals the organisation saves money.
How does Occupational Health support a healthy workforce and a healthy workplace?
Well, first things first it does not replace the need for line managers to manage effectively. An oh service supports line managers to promote healthy workplaces and a healthy workforce. Line managers though play a crucial role in this and are the person that interacts with their team, understands what makes them tick and in most cases will be the first person that they speak with about any health issues or health concerns.
The utilisation of oh services should not change this fundamental aspect. Occupational health services can support line managers to get this aspect right. This could be through training, helping identify health risks and ensure effective risk management or providing health advice, with the employees consent where necessary, in order to understand the health condition, any health problems and any work related risks.
Finding the right practitioner, first time for my organisation
Well, this is easier said than done, whilst there are no mandatory schemes for registration as an occupational health providers, there are some accreditations that are seen as good practice and/or recommended, such as the Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS), with some registering with the Care Quality Commission too. There are though professional registration bodies for the individual clinicians such as the NMC, GMC or CSP amongst others and a specialist faculty of occupational medicine (FOM) that supports the industry at large.
Using the normal search engines it can be pretty tough to find an organisation that can deliver exactly what you need without engaging with many or waiting frankly too long for an appointment. The reality of using search engines for your next provider is that you are ultimately reliant on pot luck, or finding an organisation that's good at marketing, but not necessarily healthcare provision. A little plug its one of the reasons why after working in the industry for over 16 years I created an opportunity to find the right practitioner first time using the community platform I developed.
So to summarise, occupational health should be seen as a key component of an organisation, whether you employ directly or use an outsourced provider the skills that they bring can not be understated.
Our top tips:
Don't correlate google ranking with quality healthcare provision
Onboard and engage the occupational health provider in multiple departments, its not the domain of HR or Health and Safety alone
Train Line Managers to see them as an ally to effectively manage and lead their teams, not another department to handball employees too. The line managers need to take the lead on issues relating to their team members with support from others
Train and educate employees on the benefits of what you are doing with occupational health and encourage them to be transparent and open when engaging with the clinician.
Use the right practitioner first time approach, if in doubt speak with people to refine that point, such as our FREE concierge service at Simply-People before they then seek out a provider
Constantly evaluate and measure data. This will help you to understand performance of providers but also set benchmarks to assess your organisation against.
Finally, remember that employees are individuals, providing the most appropriate access to support provides multiple benefits to them and the organisation.